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Against All Odds

Fifty years ago, John and Elaine Vollett were handed a precious baby boy. John Wayne surprised everyone by deciding to make his appearance early. As a result of John being almost three months premature and a lack of oxygen during delivery, he was born with a developmental disability and cerebral palsy.  From the moment John was diagnosed as having "mental retardation," his family was told that he would be a complete vegetable and would never amount to anything.  They were also told to "just put him in an institution and have another child."  Nightmare words that no first time parents want to hear from their doctor.  


At eleven months old, John had developed a fever which further developed into a febrile seizure.  At that time, John and Elaine were told that they had two choices, 1-have immediate surgery and 2-not have surgery.  Of course with the talk of surgery came the discussion of odds, 1% chance of living if he had the surgery within 24 hours and 0% chance of living without the surgery.  Just as the article suggests, John once again went against all odds.  They decided to have the surgery and although it was touch and go for a few weeks, John came through it all.  At that time, he was diagnosed with epilepsy and would continue to have tonic clonic seizures until the age of 14.  John continues to be diagnosed as having epilepsy however, his seizures are all controlled by medication.  

The school age years were certainly not any easier for John and his family.  Battle after battle ensued for John to receive the same education and inclusion as any other child his age.  Yes, John was different and required different teaching but this didn't mean that he wasn't deserving of this.  Countless meetings with teachers, principals and trustees didn't stop Elaine.  She was determined to get what her son, and others like him,  an education.  As any mama bear would, Elaine threatened to go right to the top and that is exactly what she did.  She contacted the Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and advocated for her son to be enrolled in school, a regular school.  Against all odds, she actually spoke to his honorable Trudeau and John was off to school the following week.  

John may not have been given the same education as all of the kids, but that was okay.  He required a different type of education, where creative learning strategies and methods were used to meet his needs.  He was finally getting that and much more.  John also needed some speech therapy as he was not able to speak until he was eight years old.  For those of you who know John now, you know he has certainly become proficient in this area.  He will get his chance to speak no matter what and you can be rest assured that you will hear him out. 

John continued with his education right into high school.  Of course there were a few bumps in the road along the way but he was included and learning.  Once he turned 18 years of age, John became an adult.  This was an exhilarating but scary time.  No one would have predicted that he would have become an adult never mind be thriving as one.  However, turning of age came with a whole new system, new rules and new battles.  At the age of 21, individuals living with a developmental disability in the province of Ontario are no longer able to continue with public education.  John was not able to attend post-secondary education nor was he able to sustain a full time job on his own.  So now what?  Elaine, being his number one advocate, created many opportunities and programs for John and his friends throughout his high school years.  She did what any amazing mom would do, create an opportunity for her child as there wasn't one out there for him.  This was the inception of the "Markham Group."  

Elaine created this amazing day program for John and two of his friends.  A place where they could go day in and day out to learn, develop and socialize.  For fourteen years, the program ran out of Elaine and John's home.  During this time, the enrollment of the program went from three to fourteen and also became a registered charity.  This was the birth of The Centre for Dreams.  Thirty years later, there are 36 individuals who benefit from the authenticity, dedication, perseverance and unconditional love that this organization was built on.


As a result of the program that Elaine created, The Centre for Dreams, John was thriving.  He was included, learning, developing new skills each and every day.  Dreams, became his home away from home.  Just when everyone thought life was good, John was diagnosed with colon cancer in September 2013.  John was in and out of the hospital two to three days faster than typical patients with the same surgery.     Luckily, the cancer was caught early and through the diligence of his medical team, he was completely cancer free by December 2013.  Once again, he defied the odds.  

This past February, John celebrated yet another milestone.  He turned 50!  What a celebration it was.  John had a big party and invited his closest friends and family.  In true John fashion, there was dancing, food and of course a lot of Tim Horton's gift cards.


John’s life is one that has certainly persevered against all odds.  John continues to live his life to the fullest and enjoys each and every moment that he gets to spend with his friends at The Centre for Dreams.  Here's to the next fifty years, against all odds.  

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