I am saddened today by the news that Jesse Davidson, of London, Ontario (where I live) has died at the age of 29. Residents of London and area are very familiar with the story of Jesse’s life and he has been an inspiration to so many of us. Jesse was diagnosed with Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy at the age of 6 but he never let that stop him from achieving much in his short life and we are all the better because of people like him. I will never forget the news coverage of Jesse’s Journey, a fundraising campaign for Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy research, spearheaded by Jesse and his father John. When Jesse was 15, he and his father, then 49, embarked on a 3300 km journey across Ontario and raised 1.5 million dollars for Duchenne’s research. The sight of John pushing Jesse’s wheelchair throughout every step of the trip as the two of them rallied through poor weather conditions is awe-inspiring. When John was 52, he embarked on a second journey…this time walking alone as Jesse wasn’t well enough to make the trip. John walked 8272 km in 286 days that time.
Duchenne’s Muscular Dystrophy is the most common and most severe form of Muscular Dystrophy and it affects primarily boys. One in 3500 boys of all races and cultures are affected by this disease, a genetic mutation. The gene is found on the X chromosome, meaning that it is mainly passed from mother to child; however, in 35% of cases it occurs after a random genetic mutation. The mutation affects the production of dystrophin, a structural protein that provides strength to muscles and in people with Muscular Dystrophy, it is either absent or present in abnormal quantities. Muscle cells begin deteriorating and breaking down which generally first shows up as weakness in the limbs. Parents may begin to notice that children will have trouble going up stairs, getting up from a sitting position, and may walk on tiptoes or trip and fall more than normal. Most children with DMD are in a wheelchair by the time they are 12 and due to continued breakdown of muscle cells, their heart and lungs become damaged as well, and they generally only live until their teens or early twenties, with the maximum age documented being 30.
Jesse never seemed to let his disease get him down or get in his way. As a child, he was actively involved in Scouting, the school choir, as well as sharing his love of sports by acting as referee and timekeeper on many school sports teams. He won his school’s citizenship award and was a high achiever academically. Jesse’s success and determination continued all through his life and in fact, his accomplishments are far too numerous for me to list here but by 2003 he was a Fanshawe College graduate with a diploma in Hotel and Restaurant Management, working as an event planner, and living on his own in an apartment, managing his own affairs with the help of his parents and attendants. His work with charity and community events continued throughout his life and he was recognized for his accomplishments through such honours as dropping the first puck at a Toronto Maple Leafs game and meeting Queen Elizabeth II. He and his father were honoured by the Governor General of Canada with the Meritorious Service medal and they were named to the Order of Ontario. There is a park in Westmount, not too far from my home, named after Jesse and I think of him and his family each time I pass by it.
The charity that began with Jesse’s Journey www.jessesjourney.com has provided nearly 10 million dollars to research and with the gift of 3 million dollars from a St. Thomas resident Helen Patricia McMillan upon her death, a research laboratory at Lawson Health Research Institute was established and stem cell research was funded. The charity continues the work that Jesse and John Davidson began 14 years ago and I urge you to check out their website for more information on the Davidsons and how you can help. If you are in the London area, there will be a “Walk Across Canada” on May 7, 2010 at Springbank Gardens. Last year’s walk raised over $200,000.
Honour will be paid to Jesse once again on Monday November 9th with a private family funeral as well as on Tuesday November 10th in a public memorial service to be held at St. Paul’s Cathedral at 10 am. The family is asking for donations to the Jesse’s Journey foundation in lieu of flowers. We were lucky to have had you as a citizen of our city Jesse and you will be sadly missed.
A message from Jesse himself: