It might be a sign of renewed appreciation for all things in the wake of her loss. Maybe it’s her good old glass-half-full outlook. Most likely, the magic of finally being in her own home — for the holidays, no less — has something to do with it.
The important thing is, Amy is all grins and gratitude as she sits in her wheelchair near a decorated Christmas tree in her new Iris Place apartment. She was one of the first tenants to move into St. Vincent de Paul’s newest affordable-housing complex in Eugene just after Thanksgiving.
Except when a guest asks about it on this day, Amy’s mind is clearly not on the left leg she lost over the course of two amputations — first below the knee and then above, the results of a blood-clotting disorder and a bone infection more than two years ago.
Instead, she’s dwelling on all she has to celebrate this holiday season. And that includes her brand-new dwelling, a fully accessible two-bedroom apartment that she views as a life-changing gift. In fact, at age 46, Amy has never lived in another place entirely on her own.
“Oh, I’ve been so blessed, you have no idea,” she says with a smile, her cheer echoed by glinting gold garland on the tree behind her. “I absolutely love this place; I can’t even begin to describe how great it is. I’ll be able to get my independence back, and people won’t have to do things for me constantly.”
Amy was blessed in that regard, too, with a close-knit family to support her throughout her medical and mobility struggles, which included relearning to walk multiple times with different prosthetics and adapting to using a wheelchair. She even lived with one of her two adult daughters in Eugene before securing her spot at Iris Place.
“I have all my family here. They’re actually all within about two miles of me,” she says. “My aunt and my uncle, my mom and dad, my kids and two grandkids … it’s very nice, if something happens they’re quick to be over here. They’ve been a tremendous help to me.”
At home without barriers
Even so, living with family and in non-accessibly designed spaces had its limitations.
“I’ve always lived with somebody else, so I’ve always wanted my own space. And every place I’ve lived has had like a ‘Lord of the Rings’ staircase,” Amy says with a laugh. “In the house, out of the house, getting to my bedroom, the bathroom … you name it, there were stairs everywhere.”
Instead of having to figure out difficult ways to adapt, now she enjoys complete freedom of movement in her wheelchair everywhere inside and outside her single-level apartment — one of four fully accessible units among the 53 at Iris Place. Everything in her space is designed expressly for use by someone in a wheelchair, from countertop, cabinet and toilet heights to doorway widths, from the choice of appliances to the shower layout with a variety of grab bars and built-in bench.
“I have all these options, where I didn’t have them before,” Amy says. “And no stairs — not one!”
The continuous hard-surface laminate flooring also allows Amy easy-rolling access to every part of her home. And from her front and back doors, she can roll without obstruction out to the parking lot where her car awaits, or to an inner courtyard with paved pathways that afford an easy connection to the city’s riverside bike path.
“This River Road location is perfect,” Amy says. “There’s everything around: restaurants, grocery stores, parks, the river … It’s just Grand Central here! I’m thankful for the community for allowing them to build here.
“I’m so looking forward to just being an active member of the community again,” she adds. “I’ve always been really outgoing. The amputation slowed me down, so I’m just now coming back around and getting my health back on track so I can do all these things. I’m really excited!”
A new lease on stability
When it comes to her health, Amy has Cushing’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other ongoing complications. “I have so many health problems, it’s ridiculous,” she allows. “I’ve pretty much got a doctor for everything from my head to my toes, about 10 of them right now and I still need more.”
In fact, she had moved to the Seattle area for expanded health-care options, but came back to Eugene after about six years. She prioritized being close to her family again after COVID-19 made it increasingly hard to get medical attention, regardless of location.
In a seeming bit of good fortune, the waitlist for Iris Place opened on her first day back in Eugene this past June. “I filled out the paperwork as fast as I could because I didn’t know how long it was going to be open,” she recalls.
While she was a longtime employee at Walmart in Eugene, eventually Amy’s health prevented her from continuing to work. So the fixed monthly rent of $610 she’ll pay at Iris Place will allow her to exist on a budget that would otherwise make it impossible to live on her own.
“I’m on a fixed income with my disability, so I have to be very careful how I do things to make it from month to month,” she says. “They’ve provided me with a way to do that, and I can live independently.
“I’m so very thankful for everything that St. Vinnie’s has done for me. It’s a wonderful opportunity that they’re giving people to regain their freedoms and be in a stable environment. There needs to be more of that in this world, and I wish that there could be places like this all over.”
Every unit of affordable housing makes a story like Amy’s possible. Your financial donation can help SVdP’s affordable-housing program continue to build new opportunities for low-income individuals and families.