Anna Marie Bovair knows just how important making a bequest can be.
For almost 20 years Anne Marie Bovair has been Chair of the Peterborough Post-Polio peer support group. She contracted paralytic polio in 1953 when she was 13 months old. Having two older sisters who were unaffected, her parents initially thought Anne Marie had a bad flu. She was given the diagnosis of polio at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Peterborough and by the time she was transferred to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto her entire left side was paralyzed. She was eventually able to walk with a leg brace, but required three surgeries on her left leg and has always walked with a slight limp.
Growing up in the 1950s with a visible disability was challenging, but Anne Marie had a supportive family who encouraged her to engage in activities she loved that did not task her physically. She became an avid reader, learned to do needlework, swam in the lake in summers, and expressed her artistic side through painting, a hobby she still nurtures. By her early twenties, she was married to her husband Murray, had a son Michael, and a job she enjoyed with the Peterborough County City Health Unit.
Anne Marie first began experiencing the overwhelming fatigue of post-polio syndrome when she was in her late thirties. Although the condition was – and still is, little understood by the medical community, Anne Marie was fortunate enough to be assessed at the now closed West Park Post- Polio clinic in Toronto, where she learned that she had PPS. Just before she turned 40, Anne Marie was forced into early retirement due to her PPS. A colleague in the Health Unit, Lois Hart-Maxwell, a fellow polio survivor, suggested she join the local post-polio support group. Initially reluctant, fearing she would be the only young member of the group, she joined, and was soon heading the chapter.
Anne Marie is very grateful to March of Dimes for supporting the Peterborough Post-Polio Chapter and helping her learn more about PPS. “I am really indebted to March of Dimes,” she says. “They taught me to find my baseline energy, gauge my strength levels and to plan my days accordingly – they helped me accept that the fatigue would be part of daily life, and how to try to manage it,” she continues.
Ann Marie knows that the Post Polio Program relies on generous gifts from supporters. That’s why she’s arranged to leave a gift to March of Dimes in her Will.
"When the time should come that I should pass away, I would like some money to go to March of dimes Canada. They’ve always been there for me and so I’d like to pay back something to them."
At its peak, the Peterborough Post-Polio group had close to 175 members. However, in recent times, membership and group activities have dwindled. But with the help of her colleague Pat Butcher, the Chapter still puts out an informative newsletter and keeps in touch with its members – with the goal of reviving the group and once again having regular meetings.
"Anne Marie has been tremendous in working to keep the Peterborough Post-Polio group alive," says Donna Mackay, Associate Director of National Programs for March of Dimes Canada. "March of Dimes Canada and her chapter have benefited tremendously from her time and efforts and we could not be more grateful –I know she is trying to reach out to new polio survivors to help grow the group," she continues.
Over the past few years, Anne Marie’s mobility has declined, and she now uses a walker or a wheelchair when traveling longer distances. But her family has remained a great source of strength and support. As she says, “disability affects the whole family, and I have been lucky to have such a great one.” She is still able to swim, practices gentle tai-chi and yoga at home, and paints regularly.
"I have my challenges, I get frustrated and tired sometimes, I have to be honest about that,” says Anne Marie. “But I always believe you have to make the best of things and be successful with what you have – I know what we are doing with the post-polio group is so important and that’s why I keep at it."
Anne-Marie is actively trying to make contact with Peterborough’s polio survivors who may not know about post-polio syndrome – she wants to help explain their new symptoms and let them know that they are not alone. Peterborough is the fastest-growing retirement community in the province, and Anne Marie suspects there may be a growing number of residents who could benefit from the group. She encourages all Peterborough-area polio survivors to contact her by calling 705-748-6625 or e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org.