Paralysed teen wants to live with family again
Disabled facility becomes home for 16-year-old

David Heyman
Calgary Herald


Monday, April 08, 2002

Calgary Herald
Sixteen-year-old Geoff Ecclestone gets help from his twin brother, Jay, to get into his wheelchair. Geoff is unable to live at home because of his mobility problems and now lives in Gill House, a special-needs facility.


Geoff Ecclestone's hopes are simple: He wants to be a doctor, or maybe even a computer expert, after he graduates from high school in a couple of years.

Most of all, though, he wants to live at home again.

The 16-year-old student at Central Memorial High School in the city's southwest is partially paralysed after an operation to remove a brain tumour two years ago.

He lives alone in a northeast facility for the disabled because his mother can't afford the necessary renovations to her Glamorgan home.

A previous bankruptcy made her ineligible for one federal government program that would have loaned her enough money.

And she earns slightly more than $32,000 a year, putting her over the threshold for a similar provincial plan.

Instead, the provincial government pays about $4,000 a month to keep Geoff in the special facility called Gill House, located about a half-hour's drive away.

There is room for two more residents, but his last housemate moved out earlier this year.

"It's nice enough. It's not home, mind you," said Geoff, sitting in a soft armchair while at home on one of his alternate weekends with his mom.

"They don't let me walk on my own, but I can do it."

His daily routine is simple but boring. He goes home after school, watches a lot of TV and occasionally plays cards and games with the nurses.

Mostly he waits for the alternate weekends to spend time with his mom, sister and two brothers, one of whom is Jay, a twin.

Geoff also gets to walk his giant Newfoundland dog, J.P., sold to him for $1 by a terminally ill woman with an inoperable brain tumour.

His brothers help Geoff around when he does come home.

Jay even took his twin out to a house party recently for some games of pool and to watch videos with friends.

But as a new student at school, it has been difficult for Geoff to make friends when he can't socialize afterwards.

Part of the problem for her son, says Donna Ecclestone, is he was "coddled" during his two-year stay at Dr. Gordon Townsend School on Richmond Road S.W., which takes patients from nearby Alberta Children's Hospital.

The transition to high school, as it is for most kids, has been tough.

"He's very frustrated," said Ecclestone.

"He was an extremely outgoing and social fellow."

The provincial government, after being told of Geoff's situation, is looking into how it might be able to help him. But he's not optimistic.

"You get dumped so many times, you just give up," he said.

Several friends of the family, including a carpenter and an electrician, have lined up to offer their construction skills for free, but they're still short the tens of thousands of dollars needed for a special elevator and other modifications to the small house on an infill lot.

"Getting help to do the work is not the problem," said Ecclestone, who works as a receptionist at an auto body shop.