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'Average Guy' shares exceptional story of recovery

"Average Guys" co-host Kenny Kalligher (left) wishes Jon Donahue well at the end of Thursday's taping of the PACT-TV public access cable TV show. It was Donahue's first appearance since his brain tumor surgery. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)1 / 4
Video monitor image of Kenny Kalligher (left) and Jon Donahue during the filming of their first "The Average Guys" TV show in a year Thursday afternoon. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)2 / 4
Jon Donahue (right) describes his brain tumor surgery with co-host Kenny Kalligher during a taping of "The Average Guys" for PACT-TV on Thursday. It's the first new episode of the sports talk show since last August when Donahue was diagnosed with the tumor. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)3 / 4
Jim Wisniewski, executive producer for PACT-TV, monitors the taping of an episode of "The Average Guys" on Thursday. (Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com)4 / 4

Jon Donahue and Kenny Kalligher recorded 573 episodes of "The Average Guys" in a 14-year span.

But it took a year and a few miracles for Donahue and Kalligher to tape No. 574.

A battle with cancer, a stroke, and a lengthy and arduous rehabilitation dominated Donahue's life shortly after they concluded that 573rd edition of the PACT-TV staple on Aug. 2, 2012.

But a year later, the two sports-crazed Duluthians returned to the PACT-TV studio inside City Hall on Thursday and officially ended their medically induced hiatus.

And as much as their show is a celebration of all things sports, Thursday's taping was more about hope. Donahue and Kalligher touched on that theme in the show's opening moments.

"Jon Donahue shouldn't be here today, and that's a fact," Kalligher said as they recounted Donahue's medical ordeals and amazing recovery.

"Before you panic, just listen to your options and keep the faith," Donahue, 48, told viewers. "Cancer is only a death sentence if you allow it to be. If you get a diagnosis of cancer, don't let it control your life, you take control of it."

"Control" has been Donahue's mantra since he learned he had gliosarcoma, a cancer of the brain, after being driven to the hospital with a severe headache on Aug. 15. The next day doctors removed a softball-sized tumor from the right side of his brain, but Donahue suffered a stroke during the procedure that paralyzed the left side of his body.

Despite facing those daunting health issues, with the help of his family, faith and medical personnel, Donahue put together a string of victories more impressive than anything witnessed on a gridiron, ball diamond, basketball court or hockey arena:

  • He survived the initial operation, even though doctors said he very likely could have died during it.
  • His cancer is now in remission.
  • The stroke bound him to a wheelchair, where medical experts said he probably would stay, but he's regained much of his mobility through hard work and can walk limited distances with the aid of a cane.
  • Donahue said doctors project that he may be able to walk without a cane within six months.

    Through it all, neither cancer nor stroke destroyed his sense of humor. Moments before having his brain tumor removed, the longtime Minnesota Vikings fan jokingly told his doctor to ensure his surgery didn't turn him into a Green Bay Packers follower.

    The support he has received from his wife, Lisa (herself a breast cancer survivor), and his three teenage children has helped him push through countless grueling rehab sessions and cancer treatments.

    The Duluth community turned out in droves to support him last December at a benefit hosted by Mr. D's. Some of the sports memorabilia sold there included a signed hockey jersey from Minnesota Duluth Hobey Baker winner Jack Connolly, an autographed photo of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, signed baseballs from Pete Rose and Harmon Killebrew and a mitt autographed by Yogi Berra.

    Donahue's recovery reached another high point Thursday with the reconvening of "The Average Guys."

    "Five hundred and seventy-three episodes and it took us a year to get to 574," said Kalligher, who brought along his notes for the show they never taped. Topics included the Summer Olympics in London and the Vikings' chances for the 2012 season.

    But after they chatted about sports for nearly an hour, they returned to the theme of the day to conclude the show.

    "Kenny, I'm an average guy," Donahue said. "I've learned to appreciate life for what it is. With God walking there every step of the way with me, I'm safe."

    "Never give up hope," he continued. "This should give all cancer survivors hope that you can get back to a normal life. It's just that it sometimes takes a while."

    Donahue and Kalligher plan to continue producing episodes of "The Average Guys" after notching No. 574 on Thursday.

    But they're not taking No. 575 for granted.

    Episode No. 574 will air on PACT-TV, Channel 7, at:

  • 8 p.m. today
  • 2 a.m., 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday
  • 5 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. Sunday
  • 5 a.m. Monday

    Contact News Tribune sports editor Rick Lubbers at rlubbers@duluthnews.com or (218) 723-5317. Follow him @ricklubbersdnt on Twitter.

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