Verna Massam


Verna Massam with her mother

My Legacy: Mrs. Verna Massam


The history of polio is still being written as global eradication efforts continue and it becomes possible that there may be a polio-free world within the next five years. However, polio survivors still have a story to tell, one they are determined doesn’t get lost to history. Toronto, Ontario resident Verna Massam shares her story to help educate survivors, and to highlight the benefits of giving back.

Verna was born in Toronto in 1933. When she was three-years-old her older sister took her to the local wading pool, and it was here that Verna believes she contracted polio. Her oldest memory of that time is being woken in the hospital by the noises of nurses and doctors. Her parents were only allowed to visit her at the hospital for one hour on Sundays. 

When she was eight-years-old Verna had her first polio-related surgeries to correct problems with her feet. Before these surgeries, she walked on her heels. She recovered in the famous Thistletown Hospital in Toronto, which was where many children with polio were treated. 

To help strengthen her legs, Verna’s father enrolled her in swimming classes. When she was sixteen-years-old she competed in a race, swimming a mile across Lake Ontario. She was awarded a trophy for completing the race, the only girl with a disability to compete against a field of able-bodied participants. Her father and Coach helped her train for the race, she swam in an indoor pool in the winter, and the Credit River five times a week in the summer. Her father and Coach followed behind her in a rowboat to ensure her safety. 

Verna never let polio or her disability stop her from leading a full life. Following her high school graduation she took business courses and began her career. In 1953, she got married, and was married for 48 years, until her husband passed away in 2000. 

“I always liked challenge in my life,” says Verna. “I am very drawn to the water, and I am so happy that at early age my dad enrolled me in swimming. Today, I enjoy my time near water again and I like cooking, as I did when my husband was alive. I never let my surgeries stop me from doing things in my life,” she continues.

Verna feels like March of Dimes Canada has always been in her life, her mother and sister even went door-to-door on behalf of the charity in late 1930’s and early 40’s collecting dimes in milk jars, to raise money for a cure for polio. 

Verna has continued the legacy of her family, and has been supporting March of Dimes for 23 years, since 1991! She became a monthly donor 14 years ago, and has also included a gift in her will to March of Dimes. Her support truly helps Canadians living with physical disabilities lead more independent lives.

“March of Dimes Canada does so much good work,” says Verna. “I am very impressed by the number of people with different disabilities that they help. When I visited my doctor, I met a another person who was wearing March of Dimes t-shirt, and was moved by this, knowing that a charity I support is helping so many people with various disabilities,” she continues. 

To learn more about becoming a monthly donor, or leaving a legacy gift, please call 1-800-263-3463 ext. 7338 or e-mail donorservices@marchofdimes.ca.

To learn more about Post-Polio Canada, a program of March of Dimes Canada, please visit www.marchofdimes.ca/polio


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