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Radio presenter who lost voice for years due to brain tumor makes return to airwaves

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By Amy Reast via SWNS

A radio presenter who lost his voice for FOUR YEARS due to a rare brain tumor has made an emotional return to the airwaves - after four months of a specialist therapy.

Joshua Donlon, 26, developed a brain stem glioma at just two-years-old, which left him in a wheelchair from the age of 12.

But, despite his illness, he was determined to follow his dream to be a radio presenter - starting at a community station in 2011.

Sadly, Josh's condition grew worse over the years and he developed pneumonia in 2018, which coupled with his tumor, left him virtually voiceless.

But, four years later and after four months of intensive rehabilitation, Josh, from Huntingdon, England regained his voice.

Joshua Donlan received almost four months of structured, high-quality person-centered care at Askham Rehab. (Askham Rehab / Pic PR via SWNS).

And he celebrated by returning to the airwaves to share his story on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

He said: "Having to step away from presenting due to my condition was extremely hard to accept.

“But I can now talk longer and for louder thanks to the therapists, which has given me a newfound confidence.

“It’s been a long journey, and not always an easy one, so my long-awaited return to live radio was a special moment.

“It just shows that hard work can pay off.”

Joshua was first diagnosed with a brain stem glioma at the age of two, which affected his central nervous system.

He was in a wheelchair permanently from the age of 12, and his condition continued to worsen as he grew older.

But he developed a passion for radio, which only increased - leading to him working as a presenter on his university’s radio station.

He went on to present a local community station in 2011, but his tumor caused respiratory complications and he eventually moved to a producing role.

Things then hit rock bottom in 2018 when he caught pneumonia - leading to six months of intensive care.

This caused a rapid deterioration of Joshua's mental state as well as his bones and muscles - and he he had become unable to speak without becoming very breathless.

In September 2021, after shielding throughout the pandemic, Joshua was admitted to Askham Rehab, a specialist neuro rehab community, near Doddington, England.

The rehab's clinical lead and outpatients service manager, Sara Neaves, told how Joshua's condition on arrival was "quite severe."

She said: "He had had issues with taking deep breaths, which affected his ability to speak.

"That was all caused by the tumor that impacts the messages from the brain to the spinal cord and then the nerves that innovate all the body’s muscles."

Askhams' speech and language teams breathing techniques allowed Josh Donlon to regain and increase the power of his voice. (Askham Rehab / Pic PR via SWNS).

Joshua was assessed and began a personalized therapy program which included several oral motor exercises to help improve his breathing and ability to swallow.

Over time he was able to eat real food after being fed through a tube into his stomach for the past four years.

His treatment also included using a specialist robotic device called AMADEO to help work on his left arm - which had been stuck at an almost 90-degree angle due to his neurological condition.

And crucially, Askham’s speech and language team’s breathing techniques allowed Joshua to regain and increase the power of his voice - which he described as "fantastic."

He said: "I can now talk longer and for louder thanks to the therapists, which has given me a newfound confidence."

After almost four months of structured care, Josh made an impressive comeback - when he returned to the airwaves for the first time in four years.

He told his powerful story on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on January 26, where thousands of listeners tuned in.

He said: "It’s been a long journey, and not always an easy one, so my long-awaited return to live radio was a special moment.

"It was quite overwhelming actually. I can't thank the station enough for having me on."

Now able to speak confidently on air once more, Joshua is unrecognizable from his former self.

Speaking on his experience, he said: "Radio has played such a huge part of my life – through both the good and not so good times.

"It just shows that hard work can pay off.

Joshua Donlan's treatment included several oral motor exercises to help improve his breathing and ability to swallow. (Askham Rehab / Pic PR via SWNS)

"I can now talk longer and for louder thanks to the therapists, which has given me a newfound confidence.

"The position I was in two to three years ago to where I am now is just a huge difference, both physically and mentally."

Ms Neaves said: "Josh came to us with the hope of being able to project his voice and be heard, so this has been a huge achievement for him.

"He’s done incredibly well and much better than people initially anticipated.

"Getting back on the radio was always a key milestone for Josh and while we played our part in helping him achieve that goal, it’s completely down to his extraordinary willpower.

"This is hopefully just the start of the next chapter of Josh’s incredible journey.”

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