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patient-storyThe staff on 3 South at Spaulding Hospital Cambridge affectionately referred to Donnie Shea as the ‘President of Spaulding.’ Donnie would tell you he started out as the Mayor, then became Governor, and eventually President of Spaulding. He said he earned the honor having been a patient at Spaulding Cambridge for over a year. While most people wouldn’t consider that to be a good thing, Donnie was extremely grateful for the unique and specialized care he received, allowing him to live every day to the fullest. Donnie was diagnosed with leukemia in 1990 and was treated with aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. The treatment was grueling but effective, and Donnie was able to return to work for the airlines and raise his family of 3 children for many years. The treatments he received years ago eventually began to affect his health. “Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease,” Donnie stated. His kidneys began to fail as a result of the radiation treatments. He required two bone marrow transplants, which landed him back in the hospital for an extended period of time. His condition was very critical, requiring him to stay in the ICU at Mass General Hospital. When he started to

Meet Donnie - A Spaulding Hospital Cambridge Patient

patient-story
Donnie Shea smiling with Spaulding team member

Donnie: A Story of Strength

Diagnosed with Leukemia in 1990, he went through a grueling yet effective treatment with Spaudling.

The staff on 3 South at Spaulding Hospital Cambridge affectionately referred to Donnie Shea as the ‘President of Spaulding.’ Donnie would tell you he started out as the Mayor, then became Governor, and eventually President of Spaulding. He said he earned the honor having been a patient at Spaulding Cambridge for over a year. While most people wouldn’t consider that to be a good thing, Donnie was extremely grateful for the unique and specialized care he received, allowing him to live every day to the fullest.

Donnie was diagnosed with leukemia in 1990 and was treated with aggressive chemotherapy and radiation. The treatment was grueling but effective, and Donnie was able to return to work for the airlines and raise his family of 3 children for many years. The treatments he received years ago eventually began to affect his health. “Sometimes the cure is worse than the disease,” Donnie stated. His kidneys began to fail as a result of the radiation treatments. He required two bone marrow transplants, which landed him back in the hospital for an extended period of time. His condition was very critical, requiring him to stay in the ICU at Mass General Hospital. When he started to stabilize medically, his care team recommended that he be transferred to Spaulding Hospital Cambridge (SHC) for long-term acute rehab care. He had a long road ahead and no one was sure what his outcome would be. He was admitted to SHC in a coma, on a ventilator with the plan for palliative care. 

At Spaulding Hospital Cambridge, Donnie’s medical team managed his multiple issues, including his need for dialysis three times per week, and he started to stabilize and improve. His therapists worked with him to slowly get him up and moving, gradually increasing the amount and intensity of his therapy as he could tolerate it. He had Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapies who worked around his dialysis schedule to help him to achieve progressive short-term goals. Donnie was eventually able to start eating again and was up and out of his room every day. He did have set-backs and was susceptible to pneumonia because of his weakened condition. The severe cases of pneumonia would result in another trip back to MGH, but Donnie always counted the days to come back to Spaulding Cambridge. “The staff are excellent here,” he stated. “I feel like they know me as well as my family does. I always feel better when I’m here.”

Donnie always had lots of visitors, including his girlfriend, children and numerous friends and relatives. He was up and dressed every day, out of his room and participating in events like the Spaulding Cambridge Holiday Celebration. Unfortunately his health was declining, to the point where he knew he didn’t have much longer to live.

His care team at Spaulding knew that his final goal was to see his two children graduate from college- Matthew from Bentley, and Julia from Providence. Knowing that he wouldn’t be able to attend the graduations, the staff arranged to hold the graduation ceremonies in his room. The schools provided caps, gowns and diplomas, as well as having a Friar from Providence College attend the ceremony to bestow the blessing. Donnie’s family and friends, and staff from Spaulding Cambridge attended the beautiful graduation ceremony where Donnie was able to see his final wish fulfilled. He was so proud of his children, and his family was so moved to be able to see him participate in this milestone event. Donnie passed away the next day, peacefully and surrounded by his loving family.

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