CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Unbeknownst to viewers and even co-workers, WKYC TV 3 sports director and "radio voice of the Browns" Jim Donovan has been receiving treatment for leukemia for 11 years.
The disease is now causing him to undergo a bone marrow transplant. Donovan will take a leave of absence to have the procedure done in the coming weeks. He made the announcement on his 11 p.m. sportscast on Channel 3 tonight.
Donovan, 54, was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) in the summer of 2000. The disease was treated by chemotherapy and other therapies over the years. A flare-up of the disease in January resulted in the decision to have the bone marrow procedure.
He was put on a waiting list for a donor and learned in April that a match was found.
"From the time I got diagnosed, the transplant option was always laid out to me," Donovan said in an interview prior to his sportscast. "The waiting has been kind of torturous. I think we're as ready as we can be."
A native of Boston, Donovan joined Channel 3 in 1985. In that time he's called play-by-play at the network level for NBC on NFL games, the Olympic Games and World Cup Soccer, and won numerous broadcast awards. He was named the Browns' radio voice in 1999. Calling those games has been his favorite assignment.
Donovan's trademark energy and enthusiasm never waned while the team floundered and he coped with various treatment periods. He never missed a Browns game, though he had to give up calling Indians games on Channel 3 because of a rough period in 2008.
"He gets that adrenaline rush just like a player," said Doug Dieken, the former Browns tackle and Donovan's partner on radio broadcasts. "On game day, he wakes up and he's ready to go. He puts everything he's got into it. After a game he's drained as if he played.
"He's a true professional. He's always been able to turn it up, regardless. I'm sure there's some suffering I don't see and people don't hear. It's got to take its toll. But he's a gamer."
Brooke Spectorsky, WKYC president and general manager, said that Donovan's ability to keep his battle private while performing his job at the highest level "is what makes him so exceptional."
"He's tackling this just like he's tackled every job, every project, he's ever done for us," Spectorsky said. "He puts every ounce of effort into overcoming this disease, just like he does his homework for a broadcast."
Donovan said he felt lucky that on most occasions the disease has not been debilitating physically. But "mentally, there isn't a day that goes by that you don't think about it," he said.
He said he dealt best with the disease by plunging himself into his job and staying as busy as possible. Besides calling Browns games and his duties at Channel 3, Donovan anchors Browns coverage on cable partner SportsTime Ohio. He also has served as spokesperson for several charities and frequently emcees events for the Browns.
The Browns have assured Donovan that his play-by-play job will be reserved for him when he's healthy.
"On behalf of everyone here at the Cleveland Browns, I'd like to wish Jim a speedy recovery," Browns President Mike Holmgren said in a statement. "Jim has been a respected voice in the Cleveland sports scene for many years, and his association with our organization is held in high esteem. His name has become synonymous with the Browns and we consider him a part of our family. Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family during this process."
When not doing the games, Donovan has found peace in walking his two beloved dogs and spending time with wife Cheryl and daughter Meghan, 20.
Recovery from the bone marrow transplant is expected to be about five months. Donovan said he hopes to be back behind the microphone for the coming Browns season.
"My goal is to get healthy and be back covering Cleveland sports as soon as possible. I'm going to really miss my job. I love what I do," he said.
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