Valley Lives - Charis Palmer

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the April 29, 2015 issue. Reprinted with permission.

The face that launched QUAIL House

by Anastasia Philopoulos

Charis Palmer, 43, died on April 3 of cancer.

Paddling along the shoreline of Lake Opinicon, Charis Palmer would often sit in her kayak, parents in tow, counting turtles on the rocks and singing to the lake with pure delight.

"We'd paddle along, singing 'row, row, row your boat,'" mom Liz Palmer said with a small laugh. "John, her dad, would always worry she would have a seizure but I would think, some risks you have to take."

Valley Lives
Charis Palmer was a large part of the inspiration behind launching Quail House. Photo courtesy Liz Palmer.

Charis was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome in her late 20s, a severe form of epilepsy that began when she was just six months old. Characterized by developmental problems, intractable seizures, and at times irrepressible behaviour, the gene defect was a challenge for Charis and her family.

"We didn't know why she had major behavioural problems [at first]," Liz explained. "She was super sometimes and just catastrophic at others and we had no idea why, which was quite difficult to cope with."

"We didn't know why she had major behavioural problems [at first]," Liz explained. "She was super sometimes and just catastrophic at others and we had no idea why, which was quite difficult to cope with." Eventually, QUAIL House became part of the answer to the Palmers' needs. In fact, past-President of the board Gill Heginbottom says Charis was the original inspiration to launch the home for adults with developmental disabilities. "Charis was very difficult, of an age where she could no longer go to school, but it would not be possible for her to stay home all the time, and social services had no where to put her," Heginbottom explained. "With the aid of the Anglican Church, social services in Chelsea, and like minded people, QUAIL House was born."

Valley Lives
Charis and mom Liz Palmer at Quail House. File photo.

While it took a while for Charis to adapt to her new surroundings, it eventually became home. Liz and her husband John were delighted by the change in their daughter. "The last 10 to 11 years have been absolutely fantastic because Joanna Gonzales appeared on the scene," Liz said. "Charis wasn't angry anymore. She became such a lovely, loving person. It's just wonderful what QUAIL House does... I don't know what it is. There's some magic in QUAIL House."

Tenderly called the QUAIL House 'den mother', Charis would often sit back in her lazyboy chair near a big window in the main living room, and keep an eye on all the residents, whom she considered family.

"She reprimanded them, reminded them, told them off, but if anybody else tried to do the same, she defended them," Heginbottom recalled. "She sat in her chair like the princess and could see out the window... she knew everything that was going on."

Liz remembers her daughter as a determined person, who loved sports such as skiing, bicycling, horseback riding, and - of course - kayaking.

"She swam like a fish, loved the water, loved to fish, loved to row. She could do a lot of things, but they gradually became unsafe... because of her seizure activity."

As of last summer, Charis had issues with mobility, but the staff at QUAIL House found ways around it, using a lift to help move Charis from her room to her favourite lazy-boy chair.

p>But for Liz, it was during her daughter's final moments that the magic of QUAIL House truly came through. "When Charis did pass on, I was talking about the blue butterflies in Costa Rica and she just gradually stopped breathing and flew away with them."

Two of the staff told Liz they'd take care of Charis. "They washed her and laid her out, and wasn't that the greatest gift. Within an hour all the staff were there, they all came weeping in, and we sat in her room and had a glass of wine."

Liz says she feels blessed to have had QUAIL House all these years. "If it was originally because of Charis, then what a legacy. There couldn't be a better legacy. I hope it's always there for families in need."

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