When Travis Gibson woke up with a sore throat last December, he just assumed he had picked up a winter cold.
After all, with three kids in the house ranging in ages from an infant to 16 years old, germs happen.
But when he was still feeling ill by mid-January and began coughing, his wife, Emily, insisted that he needed to make an appointment with his doctor.
“I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t want to go to the doctor just because I don’t like doctors,” Travis said, laughing. “But let me say this, if your wife tells you to go to the doctor, go to the doctor.”
His primary physician tested him for a few things such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but the results came back negative.
“So, he gave me some antibiotics and steroids, but after a week, or really less than a week, I could tell they weren’t working,” Travis said. “So I went back and the doctor took X-rays.”
The second time around, his doctor thought Travis was suffering from walking pneumonia, so he was given another antibiotic and told to take it easy.
But a week later, his entire family knew something was seriously wrong.
“He was losing weight and having trouble breathing and catching his breath,” Emily said, so they rushed him to the emergency room.
The ER doctor ordered a CT scan and another X-ray.
It was Valentine’s Day.
“The attending came in, and he just looked concerned,” Travis said. “I knew something was really wrong. At first, he said he thought it was a blood clot in my lungs.”
But it wasn’t.
That’s when Travis and Emily first heard the words “interstitial lung disease.”
In the ER, Travis was given an IV dose of steroids and more antibiotics, and he was told to see a pulmonologist.
“The doctor said, ‘You need to go tomorrow,’” Travis said, chuckling. “So I knew it was bad.”
Travis and Emily got home that night and searched on Google the words “interstitial lung disease.”
“It was probably the most horrific thing I had ever read,” Travis said. “It took a little while to sink in.”
Interstitial lung disease is a term used to describe many disorders that cause scarring on the lung tissue. Exposure to hazardous materials, autoimmune disorders and sometimes unknown factors cause this disease and damage to the lungs.
In Travis’ case, the doctors have no idea what caused the disease.
“They’ve done numerous tests, and everything has come back negative,” Travis said. “They thought it might have been a fungus. Then, they thought it might be a virus, but everything has come back negative, so at this point, it’s an unknown. It just affects the way oxygen gets to my blood. So, I am attached to oxygen all the time, otherwise I can’t catch my breath.”
On his 40th birthday, Travis was scheduled for surgery to have a lung biopsy performed. The results once again pointed to interstitial lung disease.
When Travis saw the X-ray of his lungs, he could clearly see the disease.
“Lungs are supposed to be dark on an X-ray,” Travis said. “My lungs just looked like clouds.”
The scarring in his lungs was affecting his ability to breathe, which caused a decrease in oxygen to his bloodstream.
That was why Travis was continuously out of breath. Therefore, Travis was prescribed oxygen around the clock.
The next set of news that Travis and his family received from the doctors was earth-shattering.
“The doctors decided to refer me to the MUSC Lung Transplant Clinic in Charleston for transplant evaluation,” he said. “They talked to us about a double lung transplant.”
After a round of several pulmonary function tests and another biopsy, the doctors eventually told Travis he had Cryptogenic Organizing Pneumonia, which is one of the diseases that falls into the interstitial lung disease category.
The doctors discovered that the disease had caused severe damage to both of Travis’ lungs.
At first, he was given a very high dose of steroids, a strong antibiotic and an immunosuppressant for approximately three months to see whether there was any improvement.
There wasn’t, so the doctors got Travis started on pulmonary rehab that included weight loss and strength training to prepare his body for a double lung transplant.
The Gibson family also started a GoFundMe account to raise the $15,000 required to be put on the lung transplant list. Through the GoFundMe account and financial support from their friends and family, they’ve managed to raise enough money to get on the list.
But there still are a great deal of expenses ahead.
For three months after the transplant, Travis will have to live within 10 minutes of MUSC for continuing care and as a precaution in the event that a complication develops.
During those three months, he will obviously not be able to work and will have to rent an apartment or house in Charleston.
Also, if Travis receives a transplant, he will not be able to move his arms for eight weeks after the surgery in order to give his sternum time to heal. He also must be in a very sanitized, germ-free environment to prevent any infections.
Therefore, for the first eight weeks, the doctors have told him that he will not be able to see his three children: Gigi, 16; Cat, 6; and James David, 1.
“That’ll be the hardest part,” Travis said, pausing for a moment. “That’s worse than the pain of the surgery. Not being able to see or hug my kids is really difficult, because there is nothing better than that in the world.”
However, despite all that Travis is facing, he and his wife still manage to joke about the tremendous challenge their family has been given in just the past nine months.
“It’s pretty much like you do a back flip and land on your head. That’s where my life is now,” Travis said, chuckling. “But I just put on my big-boy britches and do what I need to do for me and my family. We are going to do whatever we have to do to get through it.”
In fact, Travis said he is grateful.
Grateful for the time he’s been given to spend with his family and friends while he faces this challenge.
“What I always tell people is, things could be worse,” Travis said, chuckling. “I’m here. I could have been hit by a truck and killed on the way to work. But I wasn’t. I have a beautiful family, and I have beautiful friends and a lot of people care about us. I’m here. I wasn’t taken, so I’m going to give it the fight of my life.”
For more information on Travis Gibson and his family’s fight, visit www.gofundme.com/travis-gibson-double-lung-transplant-fund or www.facebook.com/transplantfortravis
Also, all proceeds from the 5th Annual Dealer Cup Charity Golf Tournament at Bartram Trail on Sept. 10 at 9 a.m. will support Travis Gibson’s double lung transplant. To register for the tournament by Sept. 1, call 803-634-3051.