The Current7:22How Reader’s Digest changed this Canadian’s life

When Elisabeth Baugh opened a Reader’s Digest in 1982, she didn’t know it would change her life.

Baugh was born with an arteriovenous malformation, a rare vascular defect that caused changes to the appearance of her face. 

There’s no known cause, but it’s been something she’s lived with since childhood. 

“I really knew I needed help,” Baugh said. “My tongue had grown and it was pushing my teeth out of alignment. I couldn’t chew food. I was choking all the time.” 

During an initial surgery in 1966, at just 14 years old, she said her lips were sewn shut and a large part of her tongue was removed.

“It was very traumatic,” she said, after going through a long and painful recovery. 

Later, she married and had four children. But the condition worsened throughout her pregnancies. 

The company announced they will cease Canadian operations next spring. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In 1982, while visiting her parents, Baugh cracked open a Reader’s Digest. In it, she found an article called “An Architect of the Face,” profiling Dr. Ian Munro, a pioneer in the field of face and skull surgery.

“Here was a doctor who had trained in France with building a whole new field of craniofacial surgery,” said Baugh.

When she discovered he worked at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, just an hour away from her home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., she knew she had to make an appointment — a moment she called “a life-changing experience.” 

But the influence of Reader’s Digest in Canada is soon coming to an end. The American parent company of the magazine has announced it’s ending the publication of Reader’s Digest Canada by April. 

Baugh still has the original copy of that issue from the ’80s. 

Without it, she said she can’t imagine how her life would’ve turned out.

Charity born

After a successful surgery the following year, she became friends with the psychiatrist on the team who suggested Baugh might be able to help others with the same experience. 

“I kind of was puzzled, but I’d never talked to anybody about my face, not that I wouldn’t have. There was just never the occasion to,” she said. 

She eventually met with a teenage girl living with the same condition, who was not keen on getting surgery, although her mother was. That’s when she realized she could help families in a similar situation. 

“I knew the whole story,” said Baugh. “I knew why each of them felt the way they did. And I knew it just because I’d lived it.”

The Current7:58Reader’s Digest Canada shuts down

Today Baugh meets all kinds of people with similar lived experience. 

Reading that article led her to start AboutFace in 1985, an organization that supports people with facial differences. 

Although now retired, she’s spent nearly 40 years in the charitable sector — which she said she owes to the magazine. 

Photo of two issues of the same magazine
The latest edition of a Canadian Reader’s Digest is seen Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

‘Very Canadian’

The magazine meant a lot to readers across the country, according to former editor-in-chief Mark Pupo. 

For some, it was a quintessential standard of the doctor’s office waiting room, and it would always be waiting for Pupo at his grandparents’ house. 

“It had this reputation as a grandparents’ magazine, but it was shared among families. It was shared among communities,” he said. 

It also said a lot about the human experience of being Canadian. 

He said he often heard from newcomers and immigrants to Canada that the magazine was an introduction to Canadian life. 

“At its core, it was very Canadian,” he said. “It was owned … by the U.S. parent company, but it’s always been thoroughly, uniquely Canadian. Like, Canadian stories being told to Canadians in many ways.”

“More than 80 per cent of every issue I worked on was written by Canadians, created for Canadians.”

The most Canadian stories always involved “you know, doing some act of kindness along the way, and also telling a lot of jokes.” 

Picking up Reader’s Digest that day allowed Baugh the opportunity of a better life, and to help others seek one out too, she said.

“You know, how they used to go around and you’d win the cash sweepstakes from Reader’s Digest?” she said. “I actually feel like I won the life sweepstakes.”

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