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About Bloorview

Dr. Hugh MacMillan Fact Sheet

Top Athlete

  • Achieved the Nesbitt Gold Medal for outstanding qualities in athletics, scholarships, and leadership
  • Won the Governor-General’s medal at University of Toronto Schools
  • Made it on University of Toronto’s intercollegiate football team (the Blues)
  • Won the George Biggs trophy as University of Toronto’s Outstanding Athlete
  • Studied medicine


  • Father was a well-known physician
  • Brother: Dr. Bob MacMillan
  • Sister: Mary
  • Married Marjorie Stronach from Montreal
  • Son, Hughie born in 1947
  • Daughter, Nancy born in 1949
  • The MacMillan family lived in Albany, NY, where Hugh was the assistant professor of bacteriology and pathology
  • Adopted a daughter, Joan in 1956


  • In 1950, Marjorie came ill with bulbar polio, but fully recovered a few months later
  • Early October 1950, Hugh also became sick with polio
  • Hugh became paralyzed in his arms, legs and respiratory muscles
  • Couldn’t move a muscle below his neck
  • Bound in an iron lung respirator to keep him alive
  • Eight months later, Hugh regained enough strength to breathe into a chest respirator and could manage to get home for a day or two
  • Sixteen months after he got polio, he managed to breathe on his own for 10 to 15 minutes at a time
  • The MacMillan family retuned home to Toronto in May, 1952
  • Hugh was a realist, not interested in futile hope
  • Made the most of what was left, and creative use of what he had

Adaptive Living

  • Chest respirator in the bedroom
  • Tilting bed with an electric motor tilted the bed back and forth to give respiratory muscles help breathing
  • A steel beam above the bed with a traveling hoist to lift him into his wheelchair
  • A gas engine in the garage rigged to come on automatically and run all his equipment if the electric power failed


  • Started a small insurance agency that he ran from home but his passion was to work in medicine again
  • Starting out slowly, he worked a few hours at Sunnybrook Hospital, reading cardiograms
  • The Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre opened in 1962 and Hugh was hired as assistant administrator for the Centre with the hospital section his special area
  • Children felt comfortable when they met Hugh because they knew he was someone who knew what they were going through
  • Pushed the centre’s basic aim: to teach boys and girls to take their place in society and to look after their personal need


  • Hugh had trouble breathing on his own so with exercise and some innovation, he worked with his wife Marjorie to come up with an idea that pushing a pillow down against the small of his back, in the wheelchair might help. Then with his tiny bit of back movement, he rocked back against the solid obstacle of the pillow, which raised his ribs in the front. The action was similar to raising and lowering the diaphragm, so this helped him breathe.
  • Rocking back and forth worked so well, he could stay out of a respirator all day. This was a great triumph for Hugh.
  • One day he had an idea.  He sat in a hammock with a pole inserted.  He thought that if he could be carried to the car, it would be easier on his wife rather than have Marjorie to wheel him in and out of the Volkswagan.  This idea almost worked – besides the fact that he almost lost consciousness from the lack of breathing! “I think we’ll can that idea he said.”
  • Exercise was key for Hugh to regain movement.  He eventually was able to feed himself by attaching a fork to one finger and his arm on a special armrest. His rocking motion carried the fork to the food to jab some food and rocked backward to let the motion carry the fork to his mouth.
  • Propped a book with a rack so he could read
  • Playing cards was a challenge.  The simplistic idea of getting a piece of wood and cutting a long enough slot in it, would hold his cards upright.  He labeled the wood with calendar numbers from 1-13.  Then when he wanted to play a card, he would call a slot number and someone would throw that card for him.
  • A telephone hung from his neck and beside the two fingers he had little movement in was a push-button calling panel – one of the first ever used (it was made by one of Hugh’s friends)
  • Took children out in public – this gave him the chance to teach the importance of good grooming. Hugh believed this was vital as a morale-builder for teenagers at the centre.
  • A signing stamp (wielded by his friend)

Turning Point

  • 1963 was the turning point for MacMillan. Trouble started when he had difficulty breathing and very low energy.
  • Early December, 1964 Hugh was taken to the hospital and returned to the iron lung
  • Dr. Hugh MacMillan died Christmas Day, 1964


  • “Life is the development of what you have, with an acceptance of the things you cannot change.”
  • “Birds use their wings. They don’t grieve over the fact that their legs are underdeveloped – they don’t worry their loves away because they aren’t big walkers. Other animals use what they have – and don’t worry that they can’t fly like the birds. When man has one skill cut off, he can look for alternatives.”


  • In 1985, the Ontario Crippled Children’s Centre was renamed the Hugh MacMillan Medical Centre (it later changed to the Hugh MacMillan Rehabilitation Centre in 1990) in his honour. Hugh MacMillan's positive attitude and approach to life are definitely symbolic and represented the spirit of the Centres, as it still does here, at Bloorview Kids Rehab.
  • In 2007, Bloorview Kids Rehab created the Power of Possibility Awards, inspired by the legacy of Dr. Hugh MacMillan
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