New liver is only hope for Gamble

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 24, 2002

At first, Theresa Diaz Gamble thought she had the flu.

But symptoms persisted, and her skin began to take on a yellow tinge. On June 2, 2001, Theresa was admitted to the liver transplant unit at Methodist Hospital in Rochester.

She was diagnosed with a liver disease, autoimmune hepatitis. Her body is rejecting its own liver, said her partner, Curtis Gilbert.

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&uot;I was there almost a month,&uot; Theresa said of her hospital stay. &uot;They didn’t know if I’d make it.&uot;

Added Theresa’s mother, Sarah Wirtjes, &uot;At first we were told there was nothing they do do.&uot;

It’s probably just as hard for family and friends to hear that,&uot; said Gilbert.

&uot;If not harder,&uot; Theresa added.

Today she survives with about 40 pills a day, which keep her liver working and her body from rejecting it. However, side effects of the pills include diabetes and swelling.

On June 16, 2001, Theresa was put on the national list for a liver transplant. &uot;I feel real fortunate about it,&uot; she said, adding when she was put on, there were 15,000 people on the list, and today there are 17,000. She has been told that a liver transplant is her only chance of survival.

Not everyone is put on the list. A committee does a full evaluation to determine if the person is right for a transplant. Not only is lifestyle important, but also what type of family support is available to the person. The average wait for a person on the list is 2 1/2 years, Theresa said, but some die within two years of being placed on the list. And others have been known to wait up to five years for a liver.

Sometimes live donors are a possibility. In this case, a person donates 60 percent of their liver to the person needing it. It takes 28 days for the liver to rejuvenate itself. Usually family members are good candidates for this, but since all her siblings as well as her mother have diabetes, a live transplant is unlikely.

Live donors are put through a rigorous screening process not only health wise, but psychologically. Theresa’s friend, Janet Ellingson, went through the process to see if she could help that way.

Since becoming ill, Theresa has been unable to work. Prior to her illness, she worked with human service agencies and with the developmentally handicapped. She has been a legal advocate for victims of domestic and sexual abuse and has also served as an outreach worker for homeless teens involved in prostitution. She has worked in Native American communities and agencies and has also worked with the elderly and been a foster parent to the handicapped.

Now, after years of helping others, Theresa needs help. Funding the surgery itself is a monumental task. There are many uninsured transplant-related expenses. To meet these expenses, a fund has been established for Theresa with the National Transplant Assistance Fund. NTAF is a non-profit organization. Anyone wishing to help may send tax-deductible donations to: National Transplant Assistance Fund, Suite 230, 3475 West Chester Pike, Newton Square, PA 1973. Checks can be made out to NTAF Liver Transplant Fund. Print in the memo section of the check: &uot;In honor of Theresa Gamble.&uot;

In addition, family and friends are planning events. Shanalyn Harriman, the 14-year-old daughter of one of Theresa’s high school classmates, Theresa Harriman, organized a garage sale July 27 to help.

&uot;It started with a little pile of clothes on the bed and ended up raising $1,000,&uot; Theresa Harriman said. &uot;My husband died of cancer in 2000, so she lived with the reality of what Theresa is going through.&uot;

In addition, a benefit is being planned at the Albert Lea Union Center beginning at 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27. There will be drawings for such items as a 21-inch, 21-speed Raleigh bicycle, a handcrafted quilt, a Peavy acoustic guitar, collectibles and more. Many other items will be auctioned. There will also be food and music.

The prizes will be on display Sept. 7 at Northbridge Mall when people can purchase drawing tickets. Tickets will also be available at Tone Music.

Cashwise Foods in Austin, where the couple lives, will donate some of the proceeds from its hotdog wagon on Aug. 30 and 31.

&uot;It’s heartening to see how many people want to help,&uot; Gilbert said, adding his employer, Church Offset Printing, has been supportive in allowing him to adjust his schedule to help Theresa, and co-workers have put together the flyers for the benefit.

Volunteers are still needed to help at the benefit and prize donations are also welcome. For information on how to help, people can call Wirtjes at 377-8635, Gilbert at 433-5820, or Vicky Hoffman at 294-3923.