Woman makes video urging people to register as marrow donors
By Kathy Chaffin
In their video plea for people to join the National Marrow Donor Program Registry, Beverly and Joe Gibbons speak from her hospital room at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem.
She looks pale and weak, both side effects of the chemotherapy regimen she’s on for acute lymphocytic leukemia. He explains that her slow speech is due to painful mouth sores ó also side effects.
For 33-year-old Beverly, holding her head up for the 3-minute video requires more strength than she can muster, so she rests her head on Joe’s shoulder. Even keeping her eyes open the whole time is an effort, so she closes them.
By the end of the video, though, she makes a comeback, stating with a weak smile that her former supervisor, Norma Honeycutt, executive director of Partners in Learning Child Development Center and Family Resource Center, cheated in the staff tricycle race on the video they made for her and posted on youtube.com.
“We just wanted to make her laugh,” Honeycutt said. When asked if she cheated in the race, she responded, “Well sure. I had to win. You know me.”
Honeycutt was just as quick to gush about her feelings for Beverly. “She’s wonderful, a genuinely good person,” she said. “She’s always doing for others. She puts herself last …”
Beverly worked for Partners in Learning for almost five years, first as a classroom teacher, then as a program facilitator/inclusion specialist. She was working there when she and Joe became foster parents and later adopted their sons, Dante, now 9, and Christian, 6.
In 2006, Beverly left Partners in Learning to work toward her birth-through-kindergarten degree at Catawba College. She was getting ready to start her second semester when she was diagnosed.
Beverly had been sick for about a week with what she thought was the flu, Joe said, when she went to see her regular physician, Dr. Jason Connelly, at Rowan Family Physicians. He took a blood test, but when her white blood count was too high for his equipment to read, Connelly sent her to Rowan Regional Medical Center to be tested again.
When he got the results, Joe said Connelly told them the high count could be due to lymphoma or leukemia. He called Baptist and got her admitted immediately.
“All the doctors here were singing his praises,” Joe said. “They said most family doctors wouldn’t even have checked. They would have sent her home, thinking she had the flu.”
Doctors at Baptist confirmed the leukemia diagnosis. It was Jan. 22, 2007 ó Beverly’s 32nd birthday.
She immediately began chemotherapy, spending almost every other month in the hospital. On Aug. 15 of last year, after undergoing radiation treatment, Beverly underwent an autologous transplant during which her own stem cells were extracted prior to surgery and purged to remove any lingering malignant cells.
The transplant appeared to be successful. She started feeling better and even returned to her classes at Catawba.
Life was good again.
On Aug. 2 of this year, however, a week before the start of the fall semester, Beverly started running a fever. When her doctors at Baptist put her back in the hospital, she told them she had to be out by the following Thursday night for her first class.
“They’re like, ‘Sorry darling, you’re going to be here at least four weeks,’ ” she said. “So it’s been rough.”
When Beverly and Joe found out she needed another bone marrow transplant, this one from a donor with a matching genetic makeup, they called on the people who had helped them make it through last year, including the staff at Partners in Learning and their church family at World Hope Worship Center on Mooresville Highway.
While Beverly started back on chemotherapy, they went to work planning a marrow and blood drive/fundraiser for Tuesday, Sept. 16, at the Salisbury Civic Center. World Hope will be holding the marrow and blood drive in one part of the center from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m., while Partners in Learning sells spaghetti meals in another part from 12:30 to 7 p.m. Plates are $6 each and will be available for dine-in or takeout.
Terry Fowler, receptionist at World Hope, said church members have been putting up posters about the marrow and blood drive/fundraiser and soliciting donations for sponsorships for the actual testing. The cost of testing for each prospective donor is $52, half of which is matched by the National Marrow Donor Program.
Staff with the program will be training volunteers to take tissue samples with cotton swabs so their blood proteins can be typed as prospective donors.
It was through a women’s Bible study that Fowler first met Beverly Gibbons. “The thing that attracts her to you the most is her humor,” Fowler said, “and she’s not one to feel sorry for herself or to ask, ‘Why me?’ She’s just got faith that God’s got it under control.”
Even when she’s been in the hospital, Fowler said Beverly would call and say, “OK, what’s going on in your life? How are you doing? What’s God saying to you today?”
Lately, though, Beverly’s friends say she hasn’t felt much like talking because of the mouth sores, so they correspond through messages posted on carepages.com, a Web site set up to help patients stay in touch with their family and community support. Beverly and Joe also post videos via youtube on the Web site. (Their video plea for prospective donors is available for viewing on salisburypost.com.)
Barbara and Tom Teichroew, a senior associate pastor at World Hope, are among her supporters. “She just brings a breath of fresh air to the church,” Tom said. “She’s a witness of doing what the Lord wants because here she and her husband have adopted two children and are raising them.”
Barbara described Beverly as “the most positive person that I know.”
The Teichroews urge people in the community to register as prospective marrow donors. “It’s a life and Jesus died for each of our lives,” Barbara said. “You think, ‘Oh my gosh, she’s barely in her 30s, so her life is so precious. Salisbury’s certainly come through so many times for so many people.’ ”
Tom said, “Anything anyone gives to the life of another is a gift, and God has really designed us all to be givers.” He set the ultimate example by giving the life of his own son, Jesus, to save us, he said, “and we’re to be givers, too.”
Beverly and Joe said they’re grateful for everything people have done for them during her illness. Last year, when she was going through treatments, Joe said the World Hope congregation donated money to seal the crawl space of their house “so we wouldn’t have any mold issues.”
Church members also held a fundraiser to cover the cost of replacing their carpet with hardwood floors and installation of an air filtration system.
“The Lord has totally provided,” Beverly said. “It’s been incredible the outpouring of love and people just giving from their hearts. This has just opened my eyes and made me appreciate Salisbury and Rowan County even more.”
Beverly said the support has made her recurrence easier to bear, but she admitted it’s hard to go through it all again ó the chemotherapy and its terrible side effects. Her hair, for example, had just grown back to where it was below her ears, she said, when it started falling out again.
One of the hardest parts for her has been not being able to see her sons as often as she’d like because her white blood count has been too low to fight off infection. Beverly said it’s difficult for them to understand when they can’t see her.
When she first found out she had leukemia, Beverly said she asked God for answers: “What are we doing, Lord? What’s happening here?”
She said she heard him answer, “You’re going to live, and I’m going to carry you through this.”
“He has so far,” Beverly said, “and I have to continue to believe it. I’m going to live, and he’s going to carry me through this.”