The straightforward explanation for Sonie Gibson’s joyful discovery that she will be able to donate a kidney to her ailing husband, Doug, is that she was mistaken about her blood type.
But her own view that “divine intervention” is involved can be understood given the three years of less than divine intervention that created the need for his second kidney transplant.
The operation on both — to remove her kidney and transplant it into him — is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 2 at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
A brittle diabetic diagnosed in his teens, Doug Gibson received a kidney and pancreas transplant July 30, 2000, at Ohio State University’s now Wexner Medical Center.
The pancreas is still functioning. But about three years ago, because anti-rejection drugs were suppressing his immune system, “I kept getting skin cancers,” he said. “If I had a nickel for every basal cell or squamous cell ….”
In an effort to curb that problem, “they changed my drug,” he said.
“I fought hard and didn’t want to do that,” said wife, Sonie.
After the change, the couple, both 54, discovered she’d been right.
“That’s what just smoked my kidney,” Doug Gibson said. “It burned my kidney out.”
Doug Gibson said that he fought with his doctor after she accused him of not following instructions for his care, then “fired her as my doctor” after concluding she should have heeded written warnings about using the drug in combination with others he was taking at the time.
With his kidney scarred and its function compromised, he started having trouble controlling his blood pressure and on Thanksgiving Day 2011 woke up with a pounding headache of the sort he’d never experienced.
“I felt like someone had hit me in the head with a baseball bat.”
A frustrating experience emergency room at Springfield Regional Medical Center let to a delayed diagnosis of his problem, which eventually led to a call for CareFlight to rush him back to Ohio State.
Even that went wrong.
Said Sonie Gibson: “The fog was so bad that morning, the helicopters couldn’t fly.”
A specialized ambulance from Miami Valley Hospital delivered him to Ohio State, where he spent five days in intensive care, a week in a step-down unit and five weeks in Dodd Hall for intense inpatient rehabilitation.
“He basically had to learn to walk again,” said his wife, whom many known through her 40 years of operating and teaching at Sonie’s School of Dance, Gymnastics and Cheerleading.
“His reasoning, decision-making, short term memory have been effected,” she said.
Another change noticeable to those who know him: “He’s much more laid back than he used to be.”
Even after rehabilitation, he was in and out of the hospital for months and for a time swelled up with so much liquid “he looked like Popeye,” his wife said.
Despite his very low kidney function, Doug Gibson said his Springfield nephrologist, Dr. George Varghese, recommended that he avoid dialysis because of the risk of another stroke.
To keep going, “I just got to watch what I eat,” he said, keeping a hawk’s eye out to avoid foods with potassium. He also cleanses his body with four to six liters of water a day.
“He’s a great doctor,” Gibson said of Varghese. “He has corrected more mistakes.”
And with the assistance of 23 drugs administered in 58 pills a day, “he’s kept me alive for the past year,” Doug Gibson said.
But the longer term solution is another kidney transplant. And though he got on the list, his rare blood type, B-positive, meant the likelihood of a five-year wait, which was more years than the Gibsons suspected he had.
Gibson’s sister, Monica Spencer, stepped forward to donate for him, but screening revealed a conflict between antigens and antibodies that made it a no-go.
Having heard that she could do a paired donation, in which she could offer her kidney to someone else if one came available for her husband, Sonie Gibson entered the screening process.
“I had always thought I was AB negative,” she said.
But blood typing in the screening process revealed her blood type as O negative, which in blood donation is a universal donor and in kidney donation is virtually the same.
She remembers the screener’s words clearly: “You may be able to give to Doug.”
Originally crestfallen when she was told the tests for problems with antigens turned out negative, she heard some more words she’ll never forget.
“Negative’s good. It means your antibodies don’t fight. You’re a match.”
“I feel it was divine intervention that changed my blood type,” she said.
Mrs. Gibson, who married her husband 27 years ago on the third anniversary of their first date, said she is “at total peace” with her decision but remains “a little scared to be knocked out” for the surgery.
“There’s nothing to it,” quipped her experienced husband.
He is, however, sincerely grateful.
“I would never ask someone to give me a kidney,” he said.
His wife said that her rock drummer husband “has never had a girlie kidney” before and may be at risk for picking of some of her traits.
“We’ll know,” she said, “if he starts liking Barry Manilow and Barbra Streisand.”
Although perhaps haunted by that prospect, Doug Gibson might even accept those conditions in return for a closer to normal life.
“I’d like to get back to where I was before the stroke,” he said. “I’m probably half as strong as I used to be.”
Sometime after Aug. 2, he’s likely to find out.
By Tom Stafford - Springfield News-Sun, Ohio (MCT)
©2013 Springfield News-Sun, Ohio
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