JACKSON, Miss.—After nearly 26 years of treating and helping the physically disabled, Dr. Jack Aldridge is leaving Methodist Rehabilitation Center to fight his own fight—a battle with multiple sclerosis.
Friends, colleagues, former patients and staff honored him at a hospital reception for his lifelong commitment. Two of those guests brought a very special person to the party. Eliska Lee Brown, who recently celebrated her second birthday, is the child of spinal cord-injured Joey Brown and his wife, Rosemary. She is also Dr. Aldridge’s godchild.
It was Dr. Aldridge’s efforts that helped the couple from Bruce conceive their only child.
“She calls him ‘Papa Jack,’ ” Joey Brown said about his daughter and Dr. Aldridge. “And he always gets a kick out of seeing her.”
“I’ve never seen him take his lab coat off for anyone, but when he saw Eliska, he pulled his coat off, got on the floor and said he was going to play with his baby,” recalled Rosemary Brown.
Joey Brown was injured in a 1977 motorcycle accident. Twelve years later, he married Rosemary. At the time of his injury, doctors never told him if he’d be able to have children, he said. “We wanted to have children immediately. But, it wasn’t happening,” Brown said.
A physician at the Mississippi Urology Clinic, Dr. Aldridge became interested in helping the Browns. He trained under Dr. S.W.J. Seager, professor and director of the Fertility Research Center at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C.
With the Browns, Dr. Aldridge used electroejaculation stimulation to collect Joey Brown’s sperm. It took 11 tries, Joey Brown said. Following the procedure, Dr. Bryan Cowan at the University of Mississippi Medical Center performed the insemination.
“Her birth was very exciting,” recalled Dr. Aldridge. “She is a precious child. I love seeing the patients succeed.”
As an urologist, Dr. Aldridge put a lot of his focus on patients with spinal cord injuries, said Ellen Lee, director of Methodist Rehab’s spinal cord injury program.
“He’s worked with people with spinal cord injuries for so long, he’s developed several long-standing friendships with patients,” she said, adding that Dr. Aldridge helped get the Methodist Rehab fertility clinic up, running and growing.
“He was instrumental in the continued improvement of our health care over the years,” Lee said. “He has been the leader of that program.”
News of Dr. Aldridge’s departure hit hard with the Browns.
“He’s the only doctor I’ve known so long and trust so much. You hate to lose a guy like that,” Joey Brown said.
“I cried when they told me,” said Rosemary Brown. “He’s like family to us. He’s the godfather to our child. We’re really pulling for him to get better.”
Dr. Aldridge said he’s going to miss working with patients like Joey and Rosemary.
When he started working at MRC in 1975, 90 percent of quadriplegics died within one year of their injury. “As we worked, things got better for them,” he recalled.
He began noticing the effects of MS late last year. “By December, I couldn’t use one leg,” he said. “I started having a hard time getting around and when I couldn’t do surgery anymore, I decided it was time to retire,” he said.
The Aldridge’s intend on studying religious philosophy with their new free time.
“We haven’t had time to fish in years,” said his wife, Nancy Aldridge. “So, maybe we’ll have some time for that and to spend with some old friends.”
Now fighting for himself, Dr. Aldridge has been doing his own research into MS, a disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord and is often thought to be an autoimmune disorder.
A new medication has helped him to walk again. “I’ve been reading everything there is about it,” he said. “I think there are other medicines that will help it for me and a lot of others.”
The Brown’s don’t doubt it.
“Knowing him, he’ll make it all the way back,” Joey Brown said.