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Donna Thomson

Care Activist, McMaster University

Donna Thomson is a care activist, author and national leader in the area caregiving across ages and abilities and family partnership in health research.


McGill University - Palliative Care Keynote

Donna Thomson: The Caregiving Effect - When Love Meets Necessity.

Donna Thomson, disability activist and author

Donna Thomson's new book, The Four Walls of My Freedom, is a riveting and redemptive memoir about her family's experience coping with her son's cerebral palsy. Her blog is

Donna Thomson's book launch

Donna Thomson's book launch for "The Four Walls of my Freedom", with an introduction by John Ralston Saul Donna's talk starts at 12:55

Being 'real' as a caregiver - Fit Minds Expert Interview with Donna Thomson -.

Nicole Scheidl of Fit Minds, a company that creates programs for caregivers of individuals suffering from Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia and Donna Thomson, author and activist speak about being 'real' as a caregiver.

Disability writer Donna Thomson's clear-eyed look at the value of a life

The Globe and Mail, September 5, 2010Print


Donna Thomson, wife of the Canadian high commissioner to Britain and disability-rights pot-stirrer, leads the way up a grand staircase at her official London residence and leaves one life for another...

What To Do When Everyone Says No: Advocacy Strategies to Access Treatment and Medications

The Caregiver NetworkOnline


This three-part series will introduce patients and caregivers to how the health care funding system works and how to access the treatments they need. Health navigation knowledge and skills will be presented alongside best practice advocacy strategies, including how to successfully leverage the help and goodwill of friends, family members and health care professionals. In this highly interactive series, participants will be provided with templates, check lists and other tools to get them started in their own advocacy plan – or help them re-think their current approach.

How to Take Charge of Your Own Health Care Experience With Solution Based Advocacy

The Caregiver Network, May 18, 2016Online


We rely on health care providers to provide quality care and timely interventions. We expect that providers know the right questions to ask in order to understand our personal health situation and to obtain the appropriate resources. The reality is that many health care professionals are drowning in paperwork and case overload and cannot spend a sufficient amount of time getting to know us and our needs. As consumers, we must take our health into our own hands and advocate for what we need.

Today’s guest on Caregivers’ Circle, Donna Thomson, author of Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I’ve Learned from a Life of Caregiving and I discuss solution-based advocacy and how to effectively get what you need from our complex private, public and community resources.

Work/Life Balance: The Secrets of Success

Abilities Magazine, September 1, 2015Online


Managing the Demands of Employment and Care Needs.

Clinicians Improve Outcomes By Connecting to a Circle of Care

Home Care Technology Report, December 21, 2014Online


Personal narrative of using Tyze Personal Networks ( to coordinate complex care in the community for our son who has severe disabilities and is medically complex. Tyze is an online care coordination tool that bridges home and families to hospitals and community care providers.

Ontario's crisis of disabled adults, abandoned by the system

The Globe and Mail, May 19, 2014Online


Activists like Donna Thomson are worried about a hardening of public attitudes toward the disabled in a bottom-line society (see Doug Ford above). Ms. Thomson is the author of The Four Walls of My Freedom, a book about living with, and fighting for, her son Nicholas, who has cerebral palsy. “You’ll hear things like, ‘Why should I care? Why should I pay? I’ve got two healthy children.’ We haven’t even begun to have the conversations about disability that we need to have.”...

Advocate Now To Get What You Need

Today's Kids in Motion, September 1, 2013Online


Best practice in advocacy strategies to succeed in advocating for a child with disabilities.

Surviving Sandwich Caregiving

Today's Kids in Motion, March 1, 2013Online


A personal reflection on my own sandwich caregiving with tips on surviving and thriving.

The Unexpected Journey of Caring: The Transformation From Loved One to Caregiver
by Donna Thomson and Zachary White, PhD
Rowman & Littlefield
June 8, 2019
ISBN-10: 1538122235 ISBN-13: 978-1538122235

With a foreword by Judy Woodruff, The Unexpected Journey of Caring is a practical guide to finding personal meaning in the 21st century care experience.

Personal transformation is usually an experience we actively seek out—not one that hunts us down. Becoming a caregiver is one transformation that comes at us, requiring us to rethink everything we once knew. Everything changes—responsibilities, beliefs, hopes, expectations, and relationships. Caregiving is not just a role reserved for “saints”—eventually, everyone is drafted into the caregiver role. It’s not a role people medically train for; it’s a new type of relationship initiated by a loved one’s need for care. And it’s a role that cannot be quarantined to home because it infuses all aspects of our lives.

Caregivers today find themselves in need of a crash course in new and unfamiliar skills. They must not only care for a loved one, but also access hidden community resources, collaborate with medical professionals, craft new narratives consistent with the changing nature of their care role, coordinate care with family, seek information and peer support using a variety of digital platforms, and negotiate social support—all while attempting to manage conflicts between work, life, and relationship roles. The moments that mark us in the transition from loved one to caregiver matter because if we don’t make sense of how we are being transformed, we risk undervaluing our care experiences, denying our evolving beliefs, becoming trapped by other’s misunderstandings, and feeling underappreciated, burned out, and overwhelmed.

Informed by original caregiver research and proven advocacy strategies, this book speaks to caregiving as it unfolds, in all of its confusion, chaos, and messiness. Readers won’t find well-intentioned clichés or care stereotypes in this book. There are no promises to help caregivers return to a life they knew before caregiving. No, this book greets caregivers where they are in their journey—new or chronic—not where others expect (or want) them to be.

The Four Walls of my Freedom
by Donna Thomson
The House of Anansi

The ‘ouR-HOPE’ approach for ethics and communication about neonatal neurological injury

Published by Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology

Predicting neurological outcomes of neonates with acute brain injury is an essential component of shared decision-making, in order to guide the development of treatment goals and appropriate care plans.


The ‘ouR-HOPE’ approach for ethics and communication about neonatal neurological injury

by Eric Racine, Emily Bell, Barbara Farlow, Steven Miller, Antoine Payot, Lisa Anne Rasmussen, Michael Shevell, Donna Thomson and Pia Wintermark

Published by Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology

Predicting neurological outcomes of neonates with acute brain injury is an essential component of shared decision-making, in order to guide the development of treatment goals and appropriate care plans.



Donna Thomson is the author of The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I’ve Learned From a Life of Caregiving (The House of Anansi Press, 2014) and is the co-author of The Unexpected Journey of Caring: The Transformation of Loved One to Caregiver (Rowman and Littlefield, June 2019). Thomson is the board Vice-Chair of Kids Brain Health Network, a National Network Centre of Excellence. She is also the co-designer and co-instructor of the Family Engagement in Research Certificate Program at CanChild, McMaster University and instructs the online course, Caregiving Essentials, also at McMaster. Thomson is a Pro Guide for family caregivers at and is the co-founder of Lifetime Networks Ottawa, an affiliate of PLAN Institute.

Additional Titles and Affiliations


Huddol is a Canadian national online support network for patients and families. The Pro role involves monitoring online support groups and providing online one to one coaching and health navigation to family caregivers.

Senior Advisor, CHILD-BRIGHT SPOR Research Project

Past Board Director and Vice-Chair, Kids Brain Health Network (NeuroDevNet)

Kids Brain Health Network (KBHN) is a Canadian Network Centre of Excellence supporting research in the area of childhood disability.

Past Talks

Keynote - Chambers Family Lifespan Address

AACPDM 70th Annual Meeting

Hollywood, FLA, September 22, 2016

Keynote: Innovation and Ethics

Festival of International Conferences on Caregiving, Disability, Aging and Technology

Toronto, ON

Family Participation and Exchange: An Ongoing Priority

7th Annual Brain Development Conference

Calgary, AB, September 28, 2016

CPIM Family Engagement Event: Living Life and Fulfilling Potential

7th Annual Brain Development Conference

Calgary, AB, September 30, 2016

Book Reading with Intro by J.R. Saul, IFOA

International Festival of Authors, Harbourfront

Toronto, ON, October 23, 2010

Research Grants

Child Bright SPOR

Organization: McGill University
Date: March 31, 2016
Grant amount: CIHR $12.5M


Co-Author and Patient/Family Advisor

More information:


  • Patient Centred Care
  • Home and Community Care
  • Family Caregiving
  • Family Engagement in Research
  • Family Wellbeing
  • Ethics and Economics of Caregiving
  • Eldercare
  • Disability Parenting
  • Caregiving


  • University of Ottawa
    B.Ed., 1977
  • The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
    Theatre in Education
    DTIE, 1997
  • Concordia University
    BFA, 1976

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