LAKE TOWNSHIP: Clayton Betz leaned against a door frame inside his daughter’s house, fighting to keep his composure. Behind him, his daughter moved among family and friends, smiling easily and exchanging hugs.
For a brief moment, Betz couldn’t fight the memory of that night in July, the post-midnight phone call that told him to hurry to a Pennsylvania hospital if he wanted to see his daughter before she died.
The doctor treating her after a football-sized rock hurled from an overpass crashed through the family car and struck her in the head didn’t think she’d make it through the night.
But that night gave way to another. Then another. And here they were, more than 100 nights later, and his daughter’s home, suddenly a place of joy and laughter.
And Sharon Budd very much alive.
“You go from that extreme situation to today,” Betz said, his words trailing off as emotions threatened to surface again. “Oh, what a difference.”
Sharon, 52, left the Geisinger HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital in Danville, Pa. Wednesday morning, and was greeted by dozens of well-wishers lining her cul-de-sac as she arrived home shortly before 2 p.m.
Her homecoming marks an end and a beginning, her family said.
The fight for life is over. She has triumphed.
She got to keep the sight in one eye, intense workouts have put her back on her feet, and multiple brain surgeries have opened a door for her to regain some of the abilities she has lost.
But now begins the long road toward normalcy. On Monday, she’ll start physical, occupational and speech therapy at Edwin Shaw Rehabilitation Center. Three days a week. Possibly for years.
“This is the beginning,” said her son, Joey Budd. “This is the very beginning.”
“I’m ready to get going,” Sharon said, pausing to check with her husband to make sure her appointments had been scheduled.
They had, Randy Budd said with a reassuring smile.
Sharon said she’s already drawing on the strength that comes from being home.
As the car that carried her turned into the development where she lives, she noticed every mailbox was decorated with pink and yellow ribbons fluttering in the breeze.
Pink has been the color used by her supporters since the start because it is also the color of breast cancer, another war that Sharon fought and survived.
“I was overwhelmed to see all of the people and all the ribbons,” Sharon said.
“It’s shocking, really,” she said, noting the breadth of the love that has enveloped her since the night of the assault. More than a dozen fund-raisers have been held in her name, organized by neighbors and family, by co-workers in the Perry Local Schools district, by Pennsylvania communities appalled by the horrific attack for which four teen-agers have been charged.
Was there ever a point when the love and support wasn’t enough? A time early on when the pain, the loss of an eye, the inability to speak or move, the repeated brain surgeries and the realization of the work that lay ahead made it preferable to just give up?
Sharon paused briefly, then looked to her husband, reaching up to touch his face.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said.
“I knew what I was in for because of the breast cancer. I was like, ‘Oh my God, here we go again’,” she said. But living through breast cancer “made me strong enough for this.”
Randy and Sharon Budd were high school sweethearts who married 31 years ago.
“We’ve been through it all,” Randy said. “Thick and thin. Thick and thin.”
The pair raised four children together. As a devoted language arts teacher for whom 60-hour work weeks were the norm, Sharon took a personal stake in the welfare of many, many more, Randy said
Now, with her story in the national news, her life has served to inspire others, he said.
Her refusal to be angry, her determination to get better, and her trademark sense of humor that often “cracks up everyone” is a valuable lesson for those lucky enough to spend time with her, Randy said.
“She has this refuse-to-lose attitude about life,” he said. When people ask her if she’s bitter, “she says she doesn’t hold any resentments against anybody.”
Sharon’s dad said he encourages other family members to feel the same way.
“Be thankful that she’s still alive... The positive thinking, you’ve got to have that. You can’t let the negative in,” Clayton Betz said.
Randy said he has his doubts his wife will ever be able to return to work.
“From where she was at the start to where she is today, she’s come so far,” he said.
The therapy center that had been home the past couple of months calls her the “miracle girl,” he said. “When they got her, she wasn’t even able to be rehabilitated. They couldn’t do anything with her. They would just pick her up and hold her, and that was her therapy for the day.”
Now she walks on her own, and is learning to talk again.
Still, “when I look back to how she was [before the assault], she’s still so far away from that,” he said.
For her part, Sharon said she’s looking forward to a simple domestic routine. It would feel good just to be able to do a little cooking and cleaning, she said.
Randy said he could see her starting to assert her independence last week.
“She was able to stand without people holding her, so she started shaking things out and moving things around,” he said, breaking into a smile as he gently squeezed her shoulder.
“She’s ready to start taking control again.”
Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.