‘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.”


22 Responses to “‘Stem Cells Is The Way To Go’”

  1. Susan says:

    I totally agree with Jim re: stem cell therapy is the way to go. Are we (polio survivors) too ‘old’ to have researchers follow up on this? I personally would be a very willing subject…

  2. bill bauce says:

    I am 70 years of age,and I had polio at age 5. I recovered to the point of being able to lead a normal life,including playing tennis, golf,etc.,and never needing any aids beyond orthotics in my shoes. Post polio started in on me in my early 50’s,and has progressed over the years to the point where I now wear braces on both legs,and use a cane . I am very interested in learning more about stem cell therapy and where,if any place,such therapy might be available.

    Bill bauce

  3. Carol Brewer says:

    I certainly would be willing too.

  4. susan says:

    Hi Bruce,

    My situation is much like yours…a full recovery until age 50, and at age 60 I am now in leg braces and a mobility scooter when i am on my feel a lot. Feels like a train wreck about to happen and nothing can be done…and the clock is ticking! I would love to participate in a stem cell research project. And post polio might be a “dying” problem in this country but not around the world, not to mention all of the people immigrating to this country.

  5. Marlene says:

    I had polio in 1952 at the age of four. It affected my right leg, stomach muscles and my left arm. I lead a relatively normal life until about age 50 and then it went all downhill. I walked around Walmart yesterday and came home and couldn’t move the rest of the day. Very depressing!! I’d be the first one on the list for stem cell research!

  6. Ghrushneshwar says:

    I agree with you. I had polio at the age of two. I am unable to stand, walk. But I still believe polio can repair by stem cells.

  7. t.reese says:

    I had polio when i was 4 and could not walk for years yet i had many operations on my legs and begun walking at age 7 later in life i became a golf professional and was good at what i did. at age 60 it was back big time.

  8. Beryl Johnson says:

    I had polio in 1946 when I was 4 which paralysed me from the neck down. I gradually regained the use of the upper half of my body & have had numerous surgeries, braces etc & have just found out about the “post polio syndrome” which explains why my mobility is fast diminishing. I would happily join a stem cell treatment program as I do believe some amazing results could be achieved. The fact that we are elderly does not mean we are “past all help”, we are mentally alert and would benefit any research plans.

  9. Kathy whitaker says:

    I was born in 1952 and had a light case of polio at age 2. I have been fine and very athletic until 60 when I went downhill very quickly and was diagnosed with post polio syndrome. I went to see a stem cell dr in Broomfield, Colorado in Dec. ( dr Hanson). I have another appt this week. He is willing to try adult stem cell therapy on my leg. I am also interested in a physician who might be doing research in this area. I would gladly be a research subject.

    Kathy Whitaker

  10. Barbara Hill says:

    Well I got polio in Oct 1960 I was 9….I had a great life! around 50 years of age I went down hill fast I fine my slef back on a vent they have try to wing me without any luck I want stem cells !! I am like 10 mins from John hopkins right down the road I hope God helps me

  11. Diane Bucaro says:

    I had polio in 1948 but recovered and went on to become a cheerleader and enjoyed hiking until age 66-4 years ago when my feet and legs began to get numb. I now have to walk very mindfully or I will trip-which I have done a few times. There is a reputable stem cell clinic in LaJolla CA called STEMGENEX, the oldest in US but to date have no protocol for our disease. Barbara, is anything going on at Johns Hopkins for us? I certainly would volunteer to be in a clinical trial.

  12. abigail says:

    I am 25 years old and contracted polio at age 5. Doctor’s had no clue what was going on since polio was a disease people didn’t get in the U.S. any more. My left leg was affected and.im starting to already see a decline in my strength. Being young, this is very scary for me. I can’t be as active as I’d like and I’ve become extremely self conscious of my legs due to my left side being a lot smaller than my right. I don’t participate in anything where I’d have to show my legs…this has been devastating. Knowing I’ve missed out on so much because of polio. If there is ANY research showing that stem cell therapy works, I’d be more than willing to volunteer.

  13. Steven Barrett says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading Jim Donovan’s story and the subsequent testimonials/comments that followed. But I’m curious to learn how many of you relied on adult stems cells as opposed to the embryonic kind. I’m all for use of the former if that’s possible. I’d like to learn what therapeutic alternatives exist for those folks who do not want to use embryonic cells because of thoroughly studied and sincere moral/religious objections.
    And I also very sincerely hope that nobody will think I’m suggesting that any lack of mentioning the use of adult cells was deliberate. My purpose in asking was to gain some clarification. As for myself, I’m a “lucky” victim of TB, having contacted it as a child growing up for a new years at Nourasseur AFB outside Casablanca, Morocco in the fifties. Streptomyacin cost me a bit hearing, and I hope it didn’t lead to anything else left lying it its unintended path towards clearing the dreaded disease from my lungs. But every time I read about certain kinds of specific research in polio, TB, Alzheimer’s, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s et al; the discussion seems to be dominated by a very stalwart group of supporters for using embryonic stem cells alone. I’d love to live a longer and more fulfilling life like anybody else. On the other hand, so long as I believe firmly that using embryonic stem cells is morally objectionable because these cells were taken by aborted babies; any joy I’d have would be greatly tempered by such knowledge that x number of unborn children were sacrificed on an altar of scientific expediency, not to mention the altar of huge profits the companies who use these cells are making from their investments. To them, the research means a fiscal pay off; to me, it’d be a moral dilemna.

  14. Will says:

    I too have had polio and would be interested in treatment with stem cells for my problems that are getting worse by the day. I was paralyzed from the waist up in 1950 and I am interested in hearing about the rest of the story from a post from above by Kathy Whitaker.

    “I went to see a stem cell dr in Broomfield, Colorado in Dec. ( dr Hanson). I have another appt this week. He is willing to try adult stem cell therapy on my leg.”

    Kathy, How did this therapy turn out?


  15. KP says:

    I am likely one of the youngest persons here that had polio (I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone younger than me who had it!), being born in 1967 and getting polio when I as under 2 yrs old. I recovered from the paralytic phase of the illness with lower limb weakness and acute deformity in my right leg and foot – some of which was addressed with surgery after moving to the US. I have dealt with the weakness and atrophied muscles, along with a mild limp ever since getting the illness. Then I first felt the effects of PPS at a relatively early age in my mid 30’s, getting severe fatigue and just feeling generally weak. It has been fairly stable at that level since then but now I feel it is getting a little worse, with increased fatigue and tripping/falling more frequently. I fear it will just get worse with the big 5-0 just around the corner! So I too hold the hope of stem cell therapy as our best chance of getting some relief, but there is appallingly little working being done in this area. I wish there was some way to get increased attention to our plight and not just relegate us to a forgotten group of victims who just has to deal with it . . .

  16. Kathryn Barrett says:

    I was born in Brazil. I aquired polio at 6 months of age. Limped and had a skinny, weak right leg. I had 3 surgeries to correct my “club foot” effect, muscle transplant..that did not work. Fixiation of my ankle and then the big Osteotomy distration procedure to lengthen my leg 1.5 inches. Painfull and was never given any good pain medications. Suffered and cried almost every night in pain for 2 months. I am now 54 and have been working full time as a nurse. My leg is weak but could be able to function well in my “activities of daily living.” I now need a knee replacement. I can hardly walk and still need to work full time to pay for my life. Bone on bone and my bad leg is turning in to the right (knocked kneed.) I will get a new total knee replacement soon. Just wanted to know if stem cell nerve replacement can help. I will be willing to be a guiniea pig for this. I just want to live a normal life as I feel that I am still young and healthy. My goal is to be able to walk up hills, hiking and walk up stairs, and also keep a job with my patient cares, that I love!

  17. Greg Nedrow says:

    Sign me up. Polio in June of 1955 at 8 months old. 10-11-12 surgeries on right leg, very atrophied. I’ve done quite well until 1997. Still going strong on my type A personality but it’s gaining on me. I’ll be 62 this year & I guess it’s time to take it down a notch. Willie Nelson had it on his lungs and says it’s helped a lot! Don’t roll me up, just sign me up!

  18. Jane MacCutcheon says:

    My brother-in-law had polio and developed the post syndrome, like most everyone above has stated, in his 50’s. Because he had a mild prostate cancer and went to conventional docs to treat it, he has been fearful of hormone replacement. Unfortunate, because this has caused him to deteriorate rapidly in the last few years.

    It is too bad, because it is obvious to me as a person who has studied health issues for years because of chronic fatigue, which I have gradually overcome mostly, that hormone replacement is key. And I mean either bio-identical prescribed by a holistic doc or homeopathic (Not everyone believes in homeopathic, though it is used world wide by millions.). Be wary of conventional medicine as the practitioners mean well but the medicine is harsh and, though it may have initial good effects, we often have to overcome its side effects (TV commercials certainly attest to that, don’t they?). Most important, get hormone replacement, including human growth hormone. Note that that is what is prescribed for older athletes to cure injury, and I’m not speaking of the illicit abuse where young people with plenty of growth hormone use it to overbuild muscle (and other!) tissues.

    If you are over 50, you are way beyond growth hormone and other hormone deficient. Take this from someone who is 70 and looks and acts and feels much younger, because I’ve taken hormone replacement since my 50’s. Please don’t take statins, if those have been prescribed, begin to eat healthfully. That means, no bad oils, and that is most of them. UDO’s should be taken at 1 tbsp/ 50 lbs of weight over a day – it is the best I know of for building your cholesterol. Yes, cholesterol, that is what our bodies use to build hormones (Note, the “sterol” part of the word, yes, that is related to the word steroid!) Burt that isn’t enough, you also need hormone replacement.

    In case I haven’t made this clear, think about it, hormones are the orchestra leaders in our body’s function, when they become low, the orchestra (all body parts) begin to slow down, including nerve rejuvenation and operatoin. I hope some of you will hear this message and find people to help them. When you get the hormones and they are prescribed right you will also find a new zest for life. Bless you all, I hope you find someone to help you or just try some reputable homeopathics yourself. And if you have a family member mired in conventional medicine, presume they know very little about the body as they have been trained to do only limited procedures and protocols that mostly enrich hospitals and drug companies and presume they know all there is to know, they mean well, but they cause sooo much damage.

  19. Amol varhekar says:

    I am 30 years old person, my left leg affected by polio also left leg weak than right leg.

  20. marlene says:

    I would like to know whether is there anyone who has had stem cell therapy done. if so, could he or she share the experience with us. I had polio at 2 years of age and it affected right side of my face. Later in my 30s I developed PPS until now. I am looking forward to be part of stem cell therapy project.

  21. Rosalee Montoya says:

    I had polio at age 2. Have led an active life until PPS forced me to retire at age 50. Now, at 66, have muscle weakness in left leg and losing tone and strength in rest of muscles. Want to participate in any clinical trials or stem cell research that would benefit polio survivors and anyone suffering from PPS.

  22. Synia says:

    Hi everyone,
    Thank you all for sharing your experience. I contracted polio in 1969 at the age of one. I had some paralysis on my right leg, but like most of you I was able to lead a pretty normal life until my late 40s. My leg became weaker and I started to walk with crutches and use a scooter with long distance. Now I get fatigue more frequently, sometimes even after a very short walk. I came across this website as I was googling stem cells therapy. I am wondering if anyone in this group has tried the stem cell therapy and would like to share their experience or recommend a doctor who treats PPS patient. Thank you all.

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