For 42 years, Jim Robinson's passion was riding his motorcycle. But in 2003, a stroke that paralyzed the right side of his body changed everything for Jim, including his hobbies.
While visiting an art gallery a year after his stroke, Jim spoke with an artist who was paralyzed from the neck down and had learned to paint with his teeth. "Jim was in awe. The artist said: 'There's nothing you can't do if you want to do it. You can do anything,'" Jim's wife, Cheryl, says. "I bought Jim paper and pencils and a drawing pad, and he started really getting into it. He had to train himself to draw with his left hand."
"Drawing gives me purpose. It's something I can do myself with no help from anyone," Jim shares. "It makes me feel happy and gives me a great sense of accomplishment."
As a result of the stroke, Jim developed global aphasia, which means it's extremely difficult for him to find the right words to express his thoughts. So his drawing also is a means of communication. "That's his way of being able to communicate his emotions. It helps him get through life," Cheryl says. "A lot of times, I can tell if he's in a good mood or not based on his drawings."
Jim's medical situation changed further in 2017 when he found out he had chronic myelogenous leukemia, or CML. Cheryl says they weren't given much information about this type of blood cancer at the medical center where Jim was diagnosed, so they decided to come to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion.
"Patients with CML need to be on an oral medication for the rest of their lives," Dr. Ailawadhi says. "The treatments are very effective — to the point that many patients can go into remission."
After discussing the potential side effects and clinical trial data for various CML drugs, Dr. Ailawadhi prescribed a different medication than the one Jim's previous doctor had recommended. All went smoothly, for a while.
"I know drawing is so important for him, so we stopped the treatment for a while to let his symptoms improve and restore his quality of life."Sikander Ailawadhi, M.D.
"He responded very well and stayed on the treatment for five months, but in the spring of 2018 he started having a series of side effects," Dr. Ailawadhi says.
Jim developed fatigue and diarrhea. His body was retaining water, and he began vomiting frequently. "He didn't have an appetite. He wasn't sleeping well," Cheryl says. "We were going to the ER frequently because he had a lot of swelling in his legs. It was so bad that I started looking at assisted living facilities for him."
Dr. Ailawadhi lowered the dosage, but the side effects persisted. As it all got to be too much, Jim gave up what he loved. He stopped drawing.
"I know drawing is so important for him, so we stopped the treatment for a while to let his symptoms improve and restore his quality of life," Dr. Ailawadhi says. "In August 2018, about a month after stopping the first medication, we switched him to a different anti-CML drug. He's tolerating it very well, and his leukemia has remained in remission."
"The new medication has been a godsend. You wouldn't know that Jim has leukemia," Cheryl says. "His color was off before. He was thin. He looked sick. Now his appetite is back. He's more social, and he's drawing again."
Jim turns 74 in May, and he's looking forward to spending time outside in the warmer weather, gathering ideas for his next series of creations. He enjoys drawing a wide variety of subjects — landscapes, flowers, portraits and animals — and it's a pastime that has once again captured his imagination.
"Jim gets a lot of inspiration from looking at magazines or watching travel shows," Cheryl says. "He sits there for hours, and the first thing he wants to do when I come home from work is show me his pictures. He lives for drawing, and Dr. Ailawadhi understands that."
"The kindness and compassion that Dr. Ailawadhi and every person we have ever come in contact with at Mayo is a true blessing."Jim Robinson
Cheryl is grateful for the compassionate care her husband has received at Mayo Clinic. "Dr. Ailawadhi is very knowledgeable and really cares about his patients," Cheryl says. "I've been to appointments at other centers where Jim's struggling to talk, and the doctors and nurses look to me. Dr. Ailawadhi is very patient and tries to figure out what Jim is trying to say to him. He takes an interest in what's going on in his life and how he's feeling."
Jim appreciates that, as well. He shares: "The kindness and compassion that Dr. Ailawadhi and every person we have ever come in contact with at Mayo is a true blessing."