By Tammie Riley
I learned something the other day. Every day, someone’s life is being saved. I know that seems obvious, but let that sink in. What may be a normal Thursday for most could be something completely different for someone else. And that’s exactly what happened to donor Gary Gilson. Aug. 16 was one of the most important moments in Gary’s life. Not only did he save lives that day, but someone else saved the life of his loved one, as well.
I had a conversation with Gary, and he told me all about how blood donations have impacted his family. He’s been donating blood since the early 2000s but started donating with us regularly in 2012. He began by volunteering with a friend with leukemia who was getting blood transfusions at MD Anderson. Gary planned to donate at MD Anderson, but he explained that the opportunity came up to donate here at The Blood Center, and our process seemed easier.
Back in October 2017, Gary’s wife Jeanne was involved in a terrible accident where she broke both of her ankles. She received blood transfusions, as well as some screws and plates to hold her ankles in place while she recovered. Jeanne spent a week in the hospital, plus a week in a rehabilitation center. She spent another two months after that trying to get back to normal.
Fast forward to June this year, and Jeanne was admitted into the hospital again for sepsis. An infection had formed between the plates and screws in her ankles, resulting in the loss of her liver and kidney functions. The infection had worsened to the point where she was in a coma while being transferred to Methodist downtown. They were able to take the plates and screws out of her ankle, but her kidney and liver were still not healed. Gary wasn’t sure how to feel at this point.
Nonetheless, good news was on the way! On the night of Aug. 15, Gary received a call from his wife that they found both a kidney and liver for her. Her transplant surgery was scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 16 at 4 a.m. The operation was scheduled to last eight hours.
To say Gary was nervous was an understatement. His anxiety was pretty much instinctual. Eight hours is a long time to wait for a surgery. However, instead of sitting in the waiting room and worrying about everything that could go wrong, Gary said he decided to get up and go save a life in return for his wife’s blessing. That same morning, he donated mononuclear cells through our Be the Match program to be used for clinical cellular therapy protocols and for research and development to create new cellular therapy options for patients.
Gary often gets emotional when talking about his wife and saving lives. He often tells himself, “Can I do something to help somebody else?” He also told me, “I think you’re more than paid back when you see the good donating can do. It’s not going to hurt. At the end, you get juice and cookies! And at the same time, you get a good feeling in your heart that you helped somebody.”
Currently, Gary’s wife of 44 years is continuing to make great strides! The doctors are stabilizing Jeanne’s new liver and kidney, and she doesn’t have any signs of rejection. Gary also mentioned to me that his daughter was inspired to donate the very next morning! Their other daughter who lives out of state also donates on a regular basis because of seeing her dad be a good example for the family.
It still amazes me how much of an impact can be made in the community in just one day. I can’t even remember what I was doing on Aug. 16! People like Gary really make me appreciate the good that’s out there in the world. I asked him what it felt like to be a hero, and he said, “I’m not a hero. I’m just an average guy.” Hmm…I wonder what the world would be like if we had more “average guys” like Gary.