‘Stem Cells Is The Way To Go’
Post-polio syndrome forced Jim Donovan to retire, but this pediatrician believes stem cell research is the answer for all neurodegenerative diseases.
Jim Donovan’s bout with polio began one morning in 1945 when he sat down for breakfast with his family. At age 15, he was strong and athletic, yet when his dad passed him a plate with toast, he was unable to lift his left arm to reach it.
The Omaha, Nebraska-native spent three months in the hospital under the care of an orthopedist. During that time, the muscles in his lower back weakened, making him unable to sit up or stand. Like many with Type A personalities, or in his particular case his strong Irish will, Donovan was sure he’d get through his ordeal.
“My parents were scared out of their socks, but I wasn’t nearly as nervous,” Donovan says. “I knew I’d recover.”
He spent a year in therapy, working with a football coach who served as his physical therapist. Although he never regained full use of his left arm, he recovered well enough to eventually join the army and study medicine and become a pediatrician who worked with disabled children.
The effects of post-polio syndrome forced him to retire three years ago. Today, the weakness in his legs and lower back have returned. He gets around with the help of a walker and a back brace. And electronic devices installed in his La Jolla home get him up and down the stairs and help lower him into his backyard pool.
“Stem cells as a possible therapeutic for all neurodegenerative diseases is the way to go,” Donovan says. “I really believe they’re what will help us. For now, it’s a matter of understanding what’s happening in our bodies and learning to adapt.”