Radio presenter who lost voice as brain tumour worsened returns to airwaves

26-year-old radio broadcaster Joshua Donlon, from Huntingdon, has made an 'emotional return' to the airwaves,

26-year-old radio broadcaster Joshua Donlon, from Huntingdon, has made an 'emotional return' to the airwaves, following a four-year absence after his brain tumour led to him losing the ability to project his voice. - Credit: Askham Rehab

A Cambridgeshire community radio presenter who lost his ability to project his voice for four years due to a rare brain tumour, has made an ‘emotional return’ to the airwaves. 

26-year-old Joshua Donlon from Huntingdon has undergone intensive specialist neuro rehab therapy to regain his voice. 

After almost half a decade, Joshua recently got behind the mic for the first time when he appeared on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

He shared his ‘challenging’ and ‘courageous’ journey in an emotionally-charged interview with presenter, Chris Mann. 

“I’ve always been passionate about radio so having to step away from my presenting due to my condition was extremely hard to accept,” said Josh. 

“The rehab I’ve received at Askham Rehab in Doddington has allowed me to regain my voice and enabled me to achieve my pursuit of getting back on the radio.” 

Josh received almost four months of structured, high-quality person-centred care at Askham Rehab in Doddington.

Josh (pictured) received almost four months of structured, high-quality person-centred care at Askham Rehab in Doddington. - Credit: Askham Rehab

Josh was diagnosed with a brain stem glioma at the age of two which affected his central nervous system and left him a permanent wheelchair user at the age of 12. 

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As his condition worsened throughout his adolescent years, his passion for radio grew, working as a presenter on the university’s radio station in addition to other local broadcast roles. 

After becoming a radio presenter on a local community station in 2011, Josh’s tumour caused respiratory complications resulting in him having to step away from presenting and moving into a producing role. 

In 2018, Josh caught pneumonia which left him needing six months in intensive care. 

In September 2021, after shielding during the pandemic, Josh was admitted to Askham Rehab in Benwick Road, Doddington.

Josh's treatment included several oral motor exercises to help improve his breathing and ability to swallow.

Josh's treatment included several oral motor exercises to help improve his breathing and ability to swallow. - Credit: Askham Rehab

On entry, he found it challenging to talk at length and to articulate words due to becoming breathless.

He could only sit independently outside the constraints of his wheelchair for five seconds before needing assistance. 

The prolonged time spent in intensive care had caused Josh to suffer with global deconditioning – a rapid deterioration of the muscles, bones and mental state due to being bedbound. 

Sarah Neaves, clinical lead and outpatients service manager at Askham Rehab, said: "When Josh arrived at Askham, his condition was quite severe, having had issues with taking deep breaths which affected his ability to speak and decreased exercise tolerance. 

“He was assessed by all four of our multidisciplinary teams; clinical psychology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech and language therapy before working with them to design an individualised and holistic therapy programme.” 

Josh’s treatment included several oral motor exercises to help improve his breathing and ability to swallow. 

Due to his sheer determination, it wasn’t long before he could enjoy tasting food for the first time in four years – having been exclusively fed through a tube into his stomach. 

Josh's treatment included several oral motor exercises to help improve his breathing and ability to swallow.

Josh's treatment included several oral motor exercises to help improve his breathing and ability to swallow. - Credit: Askham Rehab

“After several unsuccessful attempts at rehab, 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,” said Sarah. 

“In fact, he’s done incredibly well and much better than people initially anticipated due to the fact he was so deconditioned on arrival.” 

Josh also made use of Askham Rehab’s robotics and sensor assisted technology, thanks to it being one of a very small number of providers in the UK to offer a specialist robotic-led rehabilitation service. 

He used the AMADEO, a sensor-based device for hand therapy to help him work his left arm which has been stuck at an almost 90-degree angle due to his neurological condition. 

Josh has described his treatment from Askham as “absolutely fantastic.” 

“I’ve made progress in all areas of my rehab. I can now talk longer and louder thanks to the therapists, which has given me a newfound confidence,” he said. 

Josh used the AMADEO, a sensor-based device for hand therapy to help work on his left arm

Josh used the AMADEO, a sensor-based device for hand therapy to help work on his left arm – which had been stuck at an almost 90-degree angle due to his neurological condition. - Credit: Askham Rehab

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

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

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

“It has played such a huge part of my life – through the good and not so good times, I can’t thank the station enough for having me on.”