The Haxtun-Fleming Herald - What can we reason but from what we know? -Alexander Pope

By Candie Fix
Managing Editor 

Gibson finds renewed hope with recent transplant


April 22, 2020

Courtesy photo

ONE WEEK before kidney transplant surgery, Dave Gibson at the UC Health Anschutz campus.

There are more than 100,000 people on the waiting list for a kidney transplant; a year ago, Dave Gibson found himself on that list ... waiting, hoping and searching for a kidney donor due to stage 4 kidney disease. According to the National Kidney Foundation, one in three Americans are at-risk for kidney disease and for Dave, that reality struck 14 years ago.

Over a decade ago, Dave went in for an annual routine exam as required for his commercial driver's license. At that appointment, his doctor took a urine sample and results showed not only high levels of protein, but also blood. After several tests, including one that came back negative for cancer, a biopsy led to the diagnosis of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS, a nephrotic syndrome and the leading cause of kidney failure in adults. FSGS causes scarring in small sections of filters in the kidney. The disease affects males more so than women, and can sometimes be controlled with diet change and blood pressure monitoring, which is what Dave did for close to 14 years; until last spring.

As spring came last year, Dave started not feeling well and he could tell he was carrying around extra weight. Come fair, last July, Dave said he knew things were getting bad when he was so swollen he could barely get his boots on. At that point, his kidney function was less than 10 percent and he needed dialysis.

In August, Dave and his doctors knew he would need a transplant and in order to get on the waiting list, he needed to meet a number of requirements, including weight loss. Additionally, he needed to begin weekly dialysis appointments. When Dave went to meet with the doctor to put in a port for dialysis, his doctor said he was not in any condition for the operation. That same day, doctors admitted Dave to Medical Center of the Rockies for emergency dialysis and over a three-day period, drained over 30 pounds of water from his body.

"It was painful, but encouraging," said Dave. "It's a challenging thing to do. But, my boots fit again," he said with a laugh.

While he was at MCR in Loveland, Dave lost almost half of the weight he needed in order to undergo a transplant and doctors put in a port so Dave could do dialysis treatments once he returned home. Those appointments came three days a week, early in the morning at a facility in Sterling.

Kidney dialysis is a procedure to remove waste products and excess fluid from the blood when the kidneys stop working as they should. Normally, the kidneys filter the blood, removing harmful waste products and excess fluids, turning them into urine to be passed out of the body.

Over the next few months, Dave continued to do what he needed to be eligible for a kidney transplant while adapting to a whole new lifestyle. In just a year, he changed his diet to lose 65 pounds while also monitoring and managing his blood pressure and going to dialysis treatments three times a week. He also met with doctors at UC Health to undergo testing to make sure he was an eligible candidate for a transplant.

The screening at UC Health included a team of seven professionals who all met with Dave. The team performed necessary tests and then met collectively as a group to make a final decision.

On Nov. 7, Dave and his family, wife ChristiAnne and daughters Kate and Grace, received word that he was approved for a kidney transplant and would be put on the waiting list.

While waiting for a perfect match, Dave continued to go to dialysis and he and his family kept up with the new lifestyle. ChristiAnne lost weight along with Dave, both using the Noom app to change the way they looked at food. ChristiAnne made sure to have more vegetables for their meals and plenty of approved fruits. A lot of the change included low-density calorie fruits and vegetables, ChristiAnne said.

Waiting and finding a perfect kidney match for any individual can take time and is a process. While the list of requirements for the perfect match is long, perhaps the number one thing is finding someone of similar stature to ensure the organ is the right size to match the receiving body. Kidney donations can come in one of two ways; a cadaver donor or a living donor. In Dave's case, it would be from someone he never knew would be the perfect match.

It was at that time the ChristiAnne put the call out to friends and family to find a donor for Dave. According to the Gibsons, the average wait time on the transplant list is five years. While a live donor is best, only 6,000 organ transplants a year come by means of a live donation. Live donations are preferred, ChristiAnne said, because the organ has not gone through the stress and shock of death.

"Dave really struggled to have to go through that in order for him to have some sort of normal life," ChristiAnne said in regards to having to ask for help. "That is a really hard thing to ask."

When Dave was added to the transplant list, his blood brother Josh began the screening process to see if he could be a live donor for Dave. Dave has an A+ blood type and in order to find a match, the donor would need to have the same or compatible blood type in order to have the kidney survive. Shortly into Josh's screening process, they learned he had AB type blood and would not be a candidate for donation. Many others in the Haxtun community and in Phillips County as well as family members began the screening process to see if they might be a match for Dave.

ChristiAnne said that time was a complete waiting game for their family. The screening process is all done through UC Health, she explained, and while candidates are going through the screening, hospital officials don't really keep the recipient informed of the process. She said they relied on those going through the screening to keep them up-to-date on how things were going.

While Dave's brother Josh began screening to see if he was a match, deep down his wife, Sabrina, had a feeling she would be a match for Dave and that she would be the one to give him a new gift of life. Once Josh received word that he was not a successful match, Sabrina approached him about what had been on her heart all along. ChristiAnne said the gesture came as a bit of a surprise since Sabrina and Dave didn't always see eye to eye.

In mid-December, Sabrina approached them to see if she could start the screening process and for what can seem like a lifetime for some who are on the waiting list, Dave had found his match in a sister-in-law. In fact, she was a better than average match, but doctors wondered about her size versus Dave's and the size of her kidney.

As it turns out, several years before, Sabrina had begun her own weight loss journey and lost about 100 pounds. When she told doctors she had once been about the size of Dave, they had no doubts she would be Dave's donor and the two could move forward with surgery preparations.

"Dave and Sabrina had just never really clicked," ChristiAnne said. "There has been so much healing in his family through all of this."

And, as fate would have it, Dave's brother Josh and his Sabrina wife had just moved back to Colorado after living out of state. The two live just five minutes from the hospital.

"It's like God put Dave's donor right where she needed to be, right when he needed her," ChristiAnne added.

Josh and Sabrina also have two children, almost the same ages as Dave and ChristiAnne's; son Austin and daughter Bailey, ages 21 and 14.

On Jan. 3, just two months after being added to the transplant list, Dave got official word that Sabrina was a match and the surgery would move forward. Once the determination was made, Sabrina underwent the same rigorous testing as Dave, if not more so. ChristiAnne said as a live organ donor, individuals must go through an extensive physiological evaluation. Once she was cleared, Sabrina told them any Friday in February would work for her and surgery was scheduled for Feb. 7 at UC Health.

Leading up to that date, Dave kept up with dialysis and his new healthy lifestyle and underwent one last round of testing to make sure a transplant would still be successful. He also started taking medication to clamp down his immune system to ensure his body would take the kidney; a medication he will now take every 12 hours for the rest of his life.

All of Dave's family met on the Front Range for dinner the night before surgery and he and Sabrina were at UC Health early Friday, Feb. 7 for the transplant. ChristiAnne kept detailed notes of the entire process.

Sabrina went to the operating room at 7:30 a.m. and her procedure began at 8:01 a.m. Directly across the hallway, Dave entered the operating room at 8:15 a.m. and surgery began at 9 a.m. Once Sabrina's kidney was out, it was flushed and taken across the hall on a tray and placed into Dave at 10:30 a.m. Sabrina's surgery was finished at 11:02 a.m. and Dave was done at 12:09 p.m.

Once the procedure was complete, both recovered at the hospital for a few days; Sabrina for 48 hours and Dave was released on Monday. Due to the distance to the UC Health campus from Haxtun, the Gibsons were required to stay in Denver close to the hospital for several weeks; both admitting they thought they would have a lot of down time, but in reality, they spent a lot of time at follow-up appointments and Dave undergoing lab tests to make sure his numbers remained stabled.

Because Dave's immunity was low due to the surgery and required medications, ChristiAnne said she spent a lot of her days cleaning. Something she does even now that Dave is home. At the time of his discharge from the hospital, ChristiAnne said news had just begun to spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in China.

Several weekends after surgery Dave and ChristiAnne returned home to watch some Bulldog post-season basketball action, but for the most part the two lived in Denver for the month after surgery. The two officially came home on March 7.

Dave said he is especially thankful for the Haxtun Hospital because now that he is home, he can go have his weekly lab work done here and it is sent electronically back to his team of doctors at UC Health. With the recent COVID-19 outbreak he isn't seeing his doctors in person, but he is meeting via technology with his care team.

"I have a normal functioning kidney now," Dave said at his home last week. "It's functioning over 80 percent, I haven't had that in three or four years."

Dave said he feels fortunate that he caught his diagnosis when he did and that he was able to manage it for as long as he did. "Without that CDL test, who knows when we would have caught it."

Now that Dave is home, feeling better and back to work, he is cautious in what he does since his immunity levels are low, even more so now with the current COVID-19 pandemic. "I am a handshake kind of guy," Dave said. "Now I can't always do that. Normally, that's how I do business. I'm just used to being in the dirt."

Courtesy photo

DAVE GIBSON, right, with his sister-in-law Sabrina in the kidney transplant wing at UC Health Anschutz campus just three days after surgery.

Dave said he now carries a bottle of hand sanitzer and his customers will probably see him apply it when he gets back to his pickup after doing any kind of business. "It's not personal, it's just how I have to be."

This entire process, Dave said, has changed his whole perspective on life, especially in what is truly important and what isn't. "It's been a very humbling experience for me," he said. "Here I was asking for help when I'd rather be the one helping."

The Gibsons also stress the importance of live organ donation, adding that it is extremely under publicized in compression to the need. One in six Americans suffer from chronic kidney disease. With a live donation, individuals can add another 20 to 30 years to their life span.

"To see a donate life sticker is one thing," ChristiAnne said. "But to be a live donor is pretty special."


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