Catherine Bell

Catherine Bell

Catherine Bell - Polio survivor, March of Dimes Canada Board Member and monthly donor.
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. Kingston, Ontario resident and March of Dimes Canada Board Member and monthly donor, Catherine Bell, shares her story to help educate survivors, and to highlight the benefits of giving back.

Catherine contracted polio in 1953 when she was two-years-old. The polio vaccine would be discovered just two years later. Catherine had to re-learn to walk, and had a number of surgeries before she turned 17. Despite this, Catherine was an exceptional student, and studied fashion design at Ryerson in Toronto, eventually working as head fashion designer at Parkhurst, a sweater manufacturer. 

After 14 years at Parkhurst, Catherine began to experience new troubling symptoms of fatigue and weakness. She was only 36-years-old, but was having difficulty with mobility, often falling, and tiring out after walking even short distances. She was to discover that she was now dealing with the late effects of the polio virus in the form of post-polio syndrome. 

Little understood by most doctors, in the 1980's medical researchers confirmed that many survivors of polio would develop post-polio syndrome (PPS) later in life, a condition with symptoms that include weakness, fatigue, breathing and swallowing problems and muscle atrophy. In fact, it is estimated that up to 50 to 70 percent of polio survivors may experience the disabling effects of post-polio syndrome 25 to 45 years after their initial recovery from polio. There are approximately 125,000 Canadian polio survivors.

Concerned, Catherine contacted March of Dimes Canada, where she learned about post-polio syndrome and began to attending the Toronto post-polio support group.  Soon after, one of the members told her about an electrical therapeutic study funded by the charity. 

The therapy proved very helpful, and Catherine, who had been using an electric scooter or cane, was once again able to walk unaided. She moved to Kingston, Ontario shortly after receiving her therapy, and began working, first as a professor at St. Lawrence College, before opening her own image consulting business, Prime Impressions. She is one of only 13 certified Image Consultants in Canada, has been running her business for over 20 years and is a published author.

“Electric stimulation therapy, which I still use today, restored so much of the strength that I lost 25 years ago. I feel that I have conquered polio – twice,” says Catherine. 

Looking to give back, and reach out to fellow survivors, Catherine first began volunteering with the Kingston post-polio support group and for the past seven years, has been a Board Member of March of Dimes Canada.

“March of Dimes Canada has so many different ways to support people living with disabilities to become more independent,” says Catherine. 

“I am so thankful for what March of Dimes did for me and what I was able to do in my life. If it wasn’t for March of Dimes, I would not be able to be active and run my business. So by donating, and volunteering, I am able to give back, the way they gave to me,” she continues.

Catherine considers one of her most important roles at March of Dimes that of monthly donor. "The Dime Plan", or monthly giving, is an effective way to provide stable and ongoing support for the work of March of Dimes by pre-authorizing a regular monthly deduction from your bank account or credit card. She finds the monthly donations very convenient, and it takes the guesswork out of remembering when to donate.

“I am naturally a person who cares for others - I always want to help. In fact, my mother is 90-years-old and still helping people too! So, working with and supporting March of Dimes Canada is a natural fit. Together, we are helping people to remain independent, maintain their dignity and have hope. We make such a positive impact on people’s lives,” says Catherine.

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

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