After months stuck in her bedroom, St. John's woman finally moves into accessible apartment

Phyllis Churchill has moved into a new basement apartment in St. John's, one that lets her finally leave her bedroom whenever she wants.
Phyllis Churchill walks down the hall of her new apartment in St. John's. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

A St. John's woman who spent months stuck in her bedroom is finally stretching her legs — in a new apartment in the city.

Phyllis Churchill, a 65-year-old woman who has cerebellar ataxia, spent almost two years waiting for a more accessible apartment from the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation.

About two weeks ago, she got it — a basement apartment that, barring staircases in and out, means Phyllis can walk around on her own.

"It's such a big improvement, because Mom can walk from here to the bathroom, to the bedroom," said her daughter Samantha, who lives with her. "She's doing a lot better."

It's a huge change from last month, when Churchill couldn't move from room to room in her own house.

Cerebellar ataxia is a condition that causes difficulties in balance and mobility. Churchill needs mobility aids like wheelchairs or walkers to navigate on her own. But in her old unit, rooms were separated by staircases and narrow hallways, so she couldn't move around at all.

She'd spend nearly all day in her bedroom, and could go outside only with the help of an ambulance. 

In her new apartment, she can sit outside.

"I was out the other day … and sat down in the sun for a little while. Oh, it was so nice!" Phyllis Churchill said. "I mean, that's a big improvement for me."

Samantha Churchill says the effect on her mother was immediate.

"We've only been in here about two weeks so far, and there is a big change in Mom," she said.

'A lot better': St. John's woman finally walking in new apartment

1 year ago
Duration 2:06
After waiting almost two years for an accessible unit, Phyllis Churchill has finally found an apartment in St. John's that she can navigate.

After CBC News reported on the family's struggle to find an accessible unit, said Samantha Churchill, the Newfoundland and Labrador's Housing Corporation offered her another apartment within weeks. The Churchills had been waiting on a slow-moving wait-list for the better part of two years.

The family says it's a good fit, with all rooms in the unit on one floor. They now are going to explore whether they can have a powered lift installed in the front entryway so Phyllis can leave the unit on her own power.

But in their short time in the unit, Phyllis said, she's already seen a big difference.

At her old place, she'd spend all day using paint-by-numbers apps on her iPad and doing word-search puzzles. Now she can socialize and eat meals with her family.

"I'm able to get around more … and I'm walking back and forth, maybe, five or six times a day. I find it better," she said.

"I'm not confined to one room. I'm here with my daughter, having dinner with my daughter," she said "I've got more freedom, I got the TV there, I don't have to be at the puzzle book all day."

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Garrett Barry


Garrett Barry is a CBC reporter, working primarily with The St. John's Morning Show.