Deaf, Autistic Havertown Resident Shows Spirit of Giving

By Anthony Leone
Harverford-Havertown Patch

Read this article on the Havertown Patch

Patrick Donovan’s mother opens up to the challenges and joys her and her family have faced.

What should impress most people when it comes to Patrick Donovan is not that he attends community college or even that he works at McDonald’s despite being deaf and autistic.

It is his unwavering dedication to collect thousands of dollars worth of baby formula and other supplies every year for the last four years to help needy children.

While speaking at his Havertown home one evening, his mother, Courtney Donovan, told Haverford-Havertown Patch of the struggles that she and her family had to endure over the years to get the help that her 20-year-old son now has.

A Parent’s Worst Nightmare
The trying trials that Patrick face started when he was a mere 6 months old when he was diagnosed with hypotonia, where there is a decrease in muscle tone. It is often referred to as “floppy infant syndrome” due to the child’s lack of muscle control.

But three months later, the 9-month-old Patrick gave another shock to his parents. After friends of the family noticed that Patrick was not hearing as well as most babies his age, his mother took him to the doctor and the doctor, believing the hearing problem was only due to ear infections, placed tubes in the young boy’s ears to help him hear better.

But that was not the case.

“I turned Patrick around and dropped pans and there was no reaction. Bob (Patrick’s father) came home and repeated it and still nothing,” she recalled.

Donovan took Patrick to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) for additional hearing tests where she received terrible news.

“The doctor was crying when she saw the test results,” Courtney remembered of the day Patrick was diagnosed as being deaf.

Donovan, a special education teacher at the Chichester School District, and her husband, a sheet metal worker, needed to get hearing aids for their young son a few years later. But with the hearing aids costing about $1,000 each, their insurance company would not pay for it. But luckily, her mother-in-law was able to help the family and provided the money to get the hearing aids.

Now the family was set on continuing life with a deaf son, learning sign language and teaching themselves and young Patrick how to communicate with each other.

In fact, things were looking up. The deaf Patrick, who was diagnosed with hypotonia, could now walk at age 4, defying his doctor’s prediction that the young boy would never walk. Donovan said that, at that time, they accepted their son’s fate and were ready to move on.

But fate was not so kind, when, at age 4, Patrick was diagnosed with autism.

“That was a real kick. Autism is a barrier, not the deafness,” Donovan said with tears threatening to escape her eyes as she recalls one of the most bitter moments of her life.

When Hope Comes To Patrick Donovan

When the Donovan family, including sister Christine, was getting a hold on things when it came to living with Patrick, something miraculous happened, Donovan said.

While doctors at CHOP said that Patrick would not make a good candidate for a surgical procedure to help improve his hearing because he was totally deaf, Donovan recalled, she was able to convince the doctors that he was responding to sounds and should receive the operation.

So at age 11, Patrick underwent a six-hour surgery to have an audio adaptor installed into his skull and connected to his ears.

Once Patrick recovered from the surgery, he was brought back to CHOP to have the adaptor turned on and adjusted. Doctors warned the parents that two things might happen: Either the device will not work or since that Patrick is autistic and most autistic people do not respond well to change, he may “flip out” if he does hear the sound from the test.

But neither of those things happened. Instead, Patrick did the opposite.

“He smiled and then started laughing. It was total joy for him hearing for the first time,” Donovan remembered. “Now he can hear some speech sounds, but not too clearly.”

Getting Ahead In Life And Donating To Babies In Need

While there were still trying times for Patrick and his family, the now 20-year-old man has done some impressive things, Donovan said.

Patrick takes computer classes at a local community college, where he also gets three hours of tutoring, and he spends three hours working at McDonald’s, which he loves, Donovan said with a smile.

Among Patrick’s hobbies is bowling, where he helped his team at the Wynnewood Bowling Lanes win a championship game. He loves anything about Japanese anime, where he has one of the largest collections of anime comic novels of Naruto in his room, and he is on his iPad searching for his favorite topic: future technology.

But there is one topic above all else that Patrick seems to cherish the most: babies.

In fact, it is his love for young children that created the nonprofit organization Help Patrick Feed The Babies, of which his mother is the director.

It started four years ago on Thanksgiving when Donovan was watching a news special about hungry babies in the Philadelphia area. Patrick, then 17, was sitting along side his mother and said something that started the organization.

“(Are the) babies hungry?” Donovan recalled him asking, remembering that she looked over at her son and saw him crying.

She explained to him that they were and she said that later she thought it was interesting that Patrick could understand what the program was about since the closed captioning was not on.

The next morning, expecting Patrick to forget, she said she was amazed that the first words out of her son’s mouth were how to help the babies he saw on TV.

Since then, Patrick, his family, friends, his Boy Scout Troop 144 and many others have donated baby formula, supplies and money to other groups, particularly Philabundance, an organization that helps the hungry in the Philadelphia area.

In fact, before the interview with Patch, Patrick received by mail a $500 check from a Chester County farmers association, which Donovan showed to the news website. Many others also donate money, formula and supplies to Patrick so he can give to Philabunance.

Philabunance Public Relations Coordinator Lindsay Bues explained to Patch that Patrick has given a lot.

“To date, Patrick has donated 1,001 pounds of a variety of baby items including formula, food, bottles, diapers through Feed the Babies,” she stated. “Patrick Donovan is a true supporter in the fight against hunger and Philabundance is lucky to have supporters like Patrick who are truly making a difference in the Delaware Valley. Philabundance even recognized him with the Harvester of Hope award in September of 2010 for his efforts. The Harvester of Hope award is given each year to an individual and an organization who are leading the way in the spirit of fighting hunger and helping our neighbors throughout the Delaware Valley.”

And underneath the Donovan family’s white Christmas tree are not presents from Santa Claus, but baby formula and supplies, which are ready to be dropped off at Philabundance on Christmas Eve.

While the road was long and hard for Patrick and his loved ones, it has brought the Donovan family closer together, despite his deafness and autism.

“I feel blessed. Patrick is a living icon of what we believe. We are here to love and help each other. That’s the Christmas story,” she said of her son.

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