Volunteer Profiles: Michael Soo-Chan

Written By: Brendan Hair

With the bitter cold and frigid air this winter season, a vacation in tropical Trinidad & Tobago would help many Canadians struggling with the cold.  But a polio survivor from the Land of the Hummingbird has brought plenty of warmth to March of Dimes of Canada (MODC).Michael came to Canada from Trinidad in 1965 to attend McGill University where he graduated with a B. Eng. – Chemical.   He later earned a business degree from the University of Windsor (B. Commerce – Hon. Business Administration) while working full time.

Michael contracted polio as an infant leaving him with a severe impairment to his right leg.  Despite this, as a Process Engineer, Michael battled through physically demanding on-site jobs, including time at an oil refinery in Montreal, Quebec and a petrochemical plant in Sarnia, Ontario. The physical demands of the job took its toll and Michael made a decision to switch his career to the Financial Sector.  The Pickering resident now enjoys retirement from Ontario Power Generation (OPG) but dedicates his time to volunteering with MODC’s Durham Post-Polio Chapter.  Michael serves in the volunteer role of Treasurer, and has a keen interest in researching stories and developments in the post-polio world to share with his fellow polio survivors.  While Michael considers himself mobile, his objective is to assist people with more severe post-polio symptoms.

“I think I’m in a better position to help those who are less fortunate than myself and I do this through the information that I share,” said Michael.  Wheelchair accessibility is an area of concern for those survivors who use wheelchairs and who will/may require them in the future.  Michael is optimistic that wheelchair accessibility at public facilities and premises will keep expanding to remove any restriction to mobility for wheelchair users.  “There is a movement now to make those changes happen and we must give our full support to making sure it will.  We must not rest easy.”

Michael Soo-Chan
Michael Soo-Chan

While the spread of polio may not be a current issue in Canada, it is very much alive in countries like Nigeria, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  He believes the problem can be greatly diminished by administering the vaccine, as seen in India which was declared polio-free in 2014, with the last case reported in 2011.   His hope is that Pakistan (opposing) will look at India’s success and come around to accept the vaccine as the path to eradication of this disease.  Michael says, “In Canada and the Western world, the problem is recognizing and identifying the symptoms of PPS (Post-polio Syndrome).  A disease, long eradicated in Canada, medical practitioners are not familiar with the disease nor do they understand the lasting trauma to the survivor and its impact on him/her in later years.  We, as post-polio survivors, through communication, collaboration and consultation with our doctors can become our own best advocates.”

Erica Mugan, MODC Group Developer, values Michael’s contributions as a volunteer: “Michael is an integral part of the Durham Post-Polio team. His enthusiasm and interest in finding resources to inform the group about what is current in the world of polio and post-polio is greatly appreciated.  The group meets monthly and he always brings along resources that he has researched.”  “He is a valuable asset to the team and I am sure that his peer support group members would agree.”

Michael is the father of two daughters, enjoys cooking and is an advocate of healthy lifestyles.  He is an avid photographer who confesses to shooting almost everything: “I love street scenes, land and cityscapes, people, nature, birds and animals.”  He has contributed to the creation of an annual calendar that the group puts together for the Durham region.

To learn more about Post-Polio Canada, a program of March of Dimes Canada, please visit: www.marchofdimes.ca/polio
Originally Published April 15, 2015.