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Missing Paraplegic Gets a Little Help From a Friend

Times Staff Writer

George Donovan, the homeless paraplegic who disappeared from Los Angeles last Thursday after he was robbed of his wheelchair and his last $6, has turned up in a hospital in Kansas City, Kan.

He is there because of a generous and mysterious benefactor named Jim who stepped in to help, just when it was beginning to seem that hardly anyone cared.

Donovan, who sat for hours, alone and destitute, in a Los Angeles police station last week because no one seemed willing to take him in, still faces some major problems.

He says his doctors have told him he may have to undergo surgery today for a serious blockage near his heart.

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But the 47-year-old Skid Row denizen is being cared for by friends and family now, and there have been offers of new motorized wheelchairs and cash to help him in his recovery.

Jim, who took Donovan to his home in the Los Angeles area and then provided the ticket for Donovan to fly home to Kansas City, has stayed in touch by phone, to make sure things are being taken care of.

Words of Praise

“Jim is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met,” Donovan said Wednesday in a telephone interview from his hospital bed, admitting with a bit of embarrassment that he couldn’t recall his benefactor’s last name.

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“Jim said the robbery--well, something sort of like that happened to his wife once,” Donovan said. “He knew I needed help. I guess he kind of understood what it felt like.”

On March 8, police found Donovan propped up against a wall at 6th and Main streets, across from the Greyhound bus station in downtown Los Angeles.

Donovan, who said he is an Air Force veteran who served as a communications specialist in Vietnam in the early 1960s, told the officers that two men had pretended to befriend him before dumping him from his wheelchair. He said the men stole his watch, his wallet, the last of his cash and the chair, leaving him lying helpless on the pavement.

Police said they tried for three hours to find someone who would put him up for the night, but local agencies said they were full, not equipped to care for a paraplegic or unable to take Donovan in because he was not injured.

Finally, the Union Rescue Mission offered Donovan a bed, but half an hour later, he complained of abdominal pains. An ambulance was called and Donovan was admitted to the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, where doctors apparently found no immediate medical problems.

Heard News on Radio

“Jim--he’s an Air Force veteran, too--said he heard about me that night on the radio,” Donovan said Wednesday. “He came down there to see if he could help me out. I told him I wanted to get home to Kansas City, where I know people.”

Donovan checked out of County-USC at about 2 a.m. on March 9. The hospital’s log indicated simply that he had left with “a friend.” No one--in official circles, at least--knew where Donovan had gone.

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“Jim drove me to his home,” Donovan said. “It’s a nice place, about 10 or 15 minutes from the hospital. He told me his wife had been robbed and raped once, and he understood from that how I felt.

“Jim started calling my family in Kansas City,” Donovan continued. “And his wife--her name is Judy--she gave me a clean shirt to wear. Then they drove me to the airport. And they stayed right with me until I was boarded on the plane.”

In response to Jim’s call, Donovan’s sister, Phyllis Smith, was waiting at the airport in Kansas City when the plane landed. She took Donovan to her home, but a short time later, he became ill.

“All of a sudden I felt really bad,” he said. “Phyll got me into the hospital.”

Donovan was admitted to the Bethany Medical Center, a 400-bed facility in downtown Kansas City, Kan. He was given a window-front bed in a semi-private room on the second floor.

Report From Nurse

Sue King, who--along with her roommate, Bertha Gonzales--is among the staff nurses who have been caring for him, said Wednesday that Donovan reportedly is suffering from some sort of aortic blockage near his heart and may face coronary bypass surgery today.

Doctors examined Donovan Wednesday afternoon to determine if the surgery was necessary, and he later was transferred to the hospital’s coronary care unit.

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Ray McCann, manager of communications at the Union Rescue Mission, said there was “response across the nation” last week to news reports of the wheelchair robbery.

“There were offers of jobs, offers of money, offers of wheelchairs from the manufacturers,” said Shirley Agena, special projects coordinator for the mission. “Lots and lots of calls came in.”

Before undergoing anesthesia Wednesday for the medical examination, Donovan said he was heartened to hear of the offers of assistance. And he said he was especially grateful for the help from Jim.

“There’s not too many people like him around any more,” Donovan said.


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