Westport mother paralyzed by downed tree, community rallies support
WESTPORT — As the nor’easter roiled outside, Victoria Gouletas sat in her Sturges Highway home on March 7, with her husband, Troy Burk, and their three young children, celebrating a deal she had just closed at work.
Gouletas, 43, noticed a tree fall on the home’s fence outside. She and Burk put on their coats and trounced through the snow to inspect the damage.
“Victoria was trying to wrestle a branch on the fence when, from behind, there was a big pop from a different tree and then a big cloud of white snow,” said Gouletas’ sister in law, Suzanne Karpick. “Troy was completely spared and looked around, no Victoria. She was laying face-down in the snow, pinned by an enormous log.”
Gouletas was conscious, but in excruciating pain, and when she tried to move her body, she couldn’t, Karpick said. Doctors later told Gouletas she would never walk again, according to a GoFundMe page that on Thursday at 3 p.m. — three days after it went live — had raised over $100,000 to put toward Gouletas’ medical expenses.
“Just getting to the call was extremely difficult, because of the many roads closed by wires and trees,” said Marc Hartog, deputy director of the Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service. “Once there, the conditions were very trying, but all three emergency services (police, fire, EMS) worked together to extricate her from the scene, and in the ambulance the EMS services worked to stabilize her in transport to the hospital.”
Gouletas, a real-estate attorney with First American Title, sustained multiple fractures in her neck, left scapula and sternum, and broke her back, causing paralysis from the chest down, the GoFundMe page said. The following morning, Gouletas had surgery to stabilize her spine, Karpick said.
While Gouletas had no feeling, control, or motion from the breast down, she retained complete mental capacity and full use of the muscles in her head, neck, and arms, Karpick said. On Tuesday, Gouletas was transported from Norwalk Hospital to Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, where she is expected to stay in a rehabilitation facility for at least a month, her sister-in-law said.
How to help
Gofundme page for Victoria Gouletas: https://www.gofundme.com/Victoria-Gouletas-Westport
If you want to help make meals for the Gouletas-Burk family, contact Melissa Kane at firstname.lastname@example.org
Karpick said Gouletas is a fighter.
“Her comment to me on Sunday was, ‘I have a lot of work ahead of me the next three months, but I have three kids relying on me and I have to do this for them, and for me,’” Karpick said.
Westport Selectwoman Melissa Kane attested to Gouletas’ strong character and recalled the energy of her successful run last fall for a spot on the Westport’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Gouletas was elected in November as a Democratic candidate.
“She was campaigning door to door with her daughter all the time this summer,” Kane said. “She’s just a very active and committed person. This is going to slow her down a little bit, but knowing Victoria it’s not going to change who she is, and she’s going to fight her hardest.”
With intense physical therapy, doctors say, Gouletas can regain her daily independence, drive her children to school and return to school full-time, though her life will look “very different,” the GoFundMe page says.
A runner, Gouletas has strong bones and will work to regain as much mobility as her body can manage, but adjusting to life with a disability will be difficult, Karpick said.
Upcoming expenses for the Gouletas-Burk family will include a house renovation or relocation, accommodating vehicles, ongoing nursing care, and supplemental child care and housekeeping services, according to the GoFundMe page.
The familial and financial burden will be difficult, Karpick said, because her brother, Burk, just started a new job as an attorney. A core group of women have coalesced around the family and have been coordinating with Karpick about how to best help the family organize meals and raise funds for the medical expenses.
The familial and financial burden will difficult, Karpick said, because her brother, Burk, just started a new job as an attorney. Previously, Burk spent five years running the day-to-day operations of the Fleet Feet Sports store in Stamford, which Burk and Gouletas co-owned and which recently closed after difficulties competing with online retail, Karpick said.
A core group of women have coalesced around the Gouletas-Burk family and have been coordinating with Karpick about how to best help the family organize meals and raise funds for the medical expenses.
The Westport Human Services Department and Coleytown Elementary School Parent Teacher Association have also helped. Nonetheless, Karpick said, Gouletas’ children — Ana, 10, Tafe, 9, and Zoe, 2 — are understandably struggling.
“They’ve been told what’s happening and they’ve seen their mom, but they don’t have the full grasp of what it means, especially the 2-year-old, who misses her mom,” Karpick said.
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