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THE SUNDAY PROFILE

'Mother' Jones

She has dedicated her career to unraveling cerebral palsy in children and, now, in adults. And at 93, she's not ready to quit yet. Dr. Margaret Jones still has ideas to share and people to care for.

May 25, 1997|SHARI ROAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"One of the problems with living so long is that you collect too much stuff," says Dr. Margaret Jones, pulling yet another photo album from a stack of albums, books and binders in her closet.

She walks carefully to the bed, plops several albums onto the bedspread and lifts the cover of one.

There she is just out of Cornell Medical School in 1933, a slender beauty with a direct, honest gaze--the same look of intelligence and interest you see in all of her photographs.

Could she have known then, standing in a garden in the sunlight, that her life would be so unique? That her career would be one of innovation and prestige? That love would elude her for many, many years? That she would not have the children she desired? But that she would garner the praise and admiration of so many others around the world?

It's improbable that the future weighed heavily on her mind, standing before a photographer that day long ago. She was young, after all. And, like all young people, she had forever to do everything.

Today, at 93, living in her small house on a pretty street in Pacific Palisades, Margaret Jones is still that young girl in the garden. There is a future, people to meet, ideas to be shared.

And, as an advocate for people with cerebral palsy, Jones believes there is still much work to be done. That's why she hitches a ride to UCLA every Wednesday to volunteer her services at the Center for Cerebral Palsy's weekly clinic.

Working the examining rooms, she can revisit old patients, contribute her "two bits" on new cases and nurture her intense desire to keep current on cerebral palsy, a complex disorder that results from damage to the developing brain, particularly the areas related to motor coordination. The hallmarks of CP include difficulties walking, controlling the limbs, swallowing and speaking. The disorder ranges in severity; some CP patients cannot communicate or care for themselves.

It takes a special kind of medical professional to work with the complex problems of CP. And it takes someone like Jones to leave a mark on the field.

"I saw a need," says Jones of her 65-years-and-still-going work with cerebral palsy patients. "When there is a job to be done, I do it."

Says her friend Carol Hurley: "She comes from good, sturdy, Maine stock. She is of the wear-out-don't-rust-out school. And that's what she's doing."

The clinic is bustling this morning, and Jones seems delighted to be part of the scene. It's a wonderful thing to be appreciated when you're 93.

"Margaret keeps us on our toes," says Dr. William Oppenheim, UCLA's head of pediatric orthopedics.

The Wednesday morning clinic was founded by Oppenheim and pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Warwick Peacock in 1994 because they believed that CP children needed a place where doctors, nurses and physical therapists with a variety of specialties could work together to evaluate all aspects of an individual's case.

Jones, who had retired from UCLA in 1972 after 17 years in pediatrics, had kept up with advancements in CP but felt that adult patients--many of whom had been her patients as children--had nowhere to go to receive comprehensive care. She called Oppenheim and Peacock.

"I asked them to consider opening the clinic to all ages," Jones recalls. "I worked with children for so long that the children all grew up. There was no specific place to treat adult CP patients in the United States; nothing has been developed for them. So I was looking for an opportunity to do something for them."

She was surprised when Oppenheim and Peacock not only said yes but asked her to join the staff.

"When you have an older, female medical person talking to younger doctors, you don't expect they'll pay too much attention to you," Jones says.

Oh, but they do.

On this recent morning, Oppenheim and Jones are having a polite but direct debate centering on 2-year-old Brenda Gonzales, who is severely affected by CP. The child stiffens in the arms of her mother, Juanita. She moans, and Jones reaches over to stroke her hair and massage her neck. Oppenheim has already made some progress in treating Brenda so that she can sit up in a wheelchair. He is pleased. But Jones is concerned about the child's labored breathing and wants her to undergo a consultation for a type of brain surgery that can sometimes help CP patients.

Oppenheim resists at first. But Jones persists with her argument.

"I think you can do more," she tells Oppenheim.

He relents and agrees to send the family for a consultation.

He asks Juanita Gonzales: "Is this what you want?"

She nods her head vigorously, her face brightening.

Oppenheim moves to the next case, muttering: "Margaret has a way of exerting her influence."

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