Depending on a donor

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 17, 2002

Theresa Gamble thought she was coming down with the flu.

A few days after her symptoms, such as fatigue and joint aches, appeared she was in intensive care at the Mayo Clinic. There she found out she had autoimmune hepatitis and needed a liver transplant.

Gamble was diagnosed last summer and was placed on a transplant list in July 2001. She and her family are planning a fund-raiser to help offset costs if she does receive a liver.

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"I felt very fortunate," Gamble said of being placed on a transplant list so soon after being diagnosed.

About 17,000 people are on the waiting list and she could wait two years or more before receiving the transplant. Until then she takes 40 prescription pills a day, plus insulin shots for her diabetes. On prescriptions alone she spends almost $4,000 a month.

"They know us real well at the pharmacy," said Gamble's partner, Curt Gibert.

Autoimmune hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The cause of it is unknown, but people with diabetes or autoimmune disorders may be more at risk. Most members of Gamble's immediate family have diabetes, which may have made Gamble more susceptible. Gamble is not able to fend off infections and any routine illness can put her back in the hospital.

"I've been to the hospital nine times now," she said. "That's because I've caught some sort of infection or bug."

To prevent herself from getting sick, Gamble wears a face mask when out in public and all visitors to her apartment wear a mask and disinfect their hands.

She also takes the immunosuppressant drug, prednisone, which affects her appearance and moods. The drug has caused weight gain and sometimes puffs up her face, what is called "moon face," she said.

"I used to weight 132 pounds. I don't weight that anymore," Gamble said.

When she was taking 100 milligrams of it a day, she would become angry for no reason. Now she is down to 20 milligrams a day and said if the doctors want to increase it again, she will refuse.

"I don't want to leave this earth with such anger," she said. "There's too much beauty on earth. It's not worth it. I want to share laughter and do fun things."

Supported by her friends and family

Despite the disease, Gamble feels fortunate to receive the help and support of her loved ones. Gibert has been with her through the start of the disease. When she was in the hospital for 28 days last summer, the nurses set up a cot for him in her room. He spent his nights there and drove to work in Albert Lea each morning, then drove back to Rochester in the evening.

Her sister, Pauline Iverson of Austin, helps and supports her when she has bad days.

"It's been a real toll on my family," she said.

Gamble, 45, has two daughters and two grandchildren.

Gamble, 45, has two daughters and two grandchildren.

Gamble has worked in human services most of her adult life and was most recently working with victims of domestic and sexual assault. But her vulnerability because of the disease prevents her from working even though some days she feels "like (she) can take on the world," she said.

"I'm unable to work. It makes it hard."

After Gamble got out of the hospital, Gibert asked her to marry him, but because of her preexisting health condition, Gibert's insurance wouldn't cover her expenses.

"At least we don't have to worry about getting divorced," she said jokingly to Gibert.

That sense of humor is what keeps the couple going. Gibert often jokes when they are at the hospital, such as using Gamble's slippers for a puppet show.

The medical staff at Austin Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic sometimes join in with the humor. Gamble said the doctors they work with have been good at explaining what is happening to her and have been very kind.

"They have been really wonderful," she said.

Realizing the impact a donor can make

Since last year, Gamble and Gibert said they have realized many people in Austin are transplant recipients and are living life as normally as possible.

"It's really routine almost," Gibert said.

They also realized how many people need transplants. One of Gamble's friends needed a transplant, but was not put on a list.

"I want people to be aware that there are a lot of families that aren't as fortunate as I am," Gamble said.

That makes deciding to become an organ donor even more important, she said.

Gamble said when she dies, she will donate her body for research. She would like to become a donor, but because of her health is not able to do so.

Because the liver can regenerate itself, Gamble would need only a portion of someone's liver. The Mayo Clinic recently started using this live donor procedure, Gibert said.

However, because most of Gamble's family members, including Iverson, have diabetes, they are not eligible to donate. Gibert is not a match.

Gamble hopes the live donor procedure would work out for her so that another person will not have to die in order for her to live.

Trying to cover costs

To cover more than $100,000 in uninsured costs if Gamble receives a liver transplant, Gamble and her friends and family are planning a benefit 4 to 8 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Union Center in Albert Lea, where Gamble is originally from. They will raffle off prizes and auction items or services from local businesses to raise money. A deejay has donated his time for the event and food will also be at the fund-raiser.

The National Transplant Assistance Fund is helping Gamble with the fund-raising. The fund puts together information for potential donors and any donations are managed by the fund.

The Keepsake Quilters Guild of Austin is making a quilt for Gamble to have as one of the raffle prizes at her benefit Sept. 27. The quilt, a bicycle, a guitar and a skateboard deck are among the prizes people attending the benefit can win.

The benefit also will auction off contributions from local people and businesses.

"People who have donated here in Austin have been very generous," Gamble said.

Putting together the fund-raiser has been a challenge for them because they are trying to balance it between work and Gamble's routine. Finding people to donate products or services for the auction has been frustrating because they have not done it before.

In the meantime, Gamble and Gibert try to enjoy the free time they have. They say this disease has made them look at life differently and makes them try to enjoy it more. They visit friends often and take picnics together. "When we visit friends, it's the equivalent of a trip to Valley Fair," Gibert said.

"If it's true that this might be my last chance on earth, I want to get out and appreciate it," Gamble said.

For more information about the benefit for Theresa Gamble, call Gamble at 433-5820 or her sister Pauline Iverson at 434-0232.

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at