Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Australian lung transplant recipient overcomes perplexing infection

Bendigo's miracle man: I could feel bug biting me

NEIL Gibson doesn’t mind having a joke about his new body image.
But when you look into his eyes, you know . . . this man has been to hell and back.

“I was nearly dead,’’ he said.


In a strange twist of fate, it was the first near-death experience that actually saved Neil from dying from the second.

After battling emphysema, Neil was in critical care in Bendigo with only days to live when the life-saving call came through.

A suitable lung donor had been found.

The call came at 2am on one of the few occasions Neil’s wife Glenis had left his bedside to go home for a rest.

When the hospital phoned, Glenis thought it was the call she had been dreading.

But by 12.30pm the same day, Neil was in theatre receiving a double lung transplant.

He left hospital three weeks later and stayed in a unit near the hospital for three months for ongoing treatment.

But a month after the transplant, pus started oozing from Neil’s wound.

Tests to determine the cause were inconclusive and antibiotics were having little effect.

Surgeons took three biopsies before putting Neil under the knife a fourth time.

This time, they removed flesh, skin and much of the left side of his chest.

The following day, Neil was again rushed to surgery because the bug was still in his body.

Skin grafts were taken from his leg to repair the damage.

“It was killing me,’’ Neil said.

“It was eating me . . . I could feel it biting me.

“They didn’t know what to treat it with, they knew nothing about the bug.’’

The biopsy was sent to Sweden, then America and on to Vancouver on Canada’s west coast before two drugs used for treating leprosy were imported from Sweden.

The bug was identified as mycobacterium abscessus, a rapidly growing mycobacteria that causes cutaneous and respiratory infections.

It’s believed Neil had the bug in his system after using potting mix in the garden.

Treatment for the bug is complex and the goal is often control rather than cure.

The drugs imported to treat Neil were designed to poison the mycobacteria, but the result was five months of hell.

“They were keeping me at a level not to kill me with the poison,’’ Neil said.

“But the drugs were worse than the lung operation.

“I was falling over, couldn’t walk, had no balance and couldn’t sit down.

“In the finish I didn’t want to live . . . I didn’t give up before the transplant, but on these drugs, I said `no, that’s it’.’’

After five months of treatment, Neil took himself off the medication.

To the surprise of his medical team, Neil improved and was soon well again.

“They call me the miracle man,’’ he said.

“I’m now mowing the lawn and back to gardening.

“Bu I’m bloody lucky.’’

Such is Neil’s appreciation for life and those who have helped him through the journey that he now volunteers at Chum House palliative care.

“They looked after me for two-and-a-half years,’’ he said.

Neil starts talking about how he feels to be helping those who are close to death . . . but quickly starts joking again.

“It can be a bit awkward,’’ he said.

His eyes told the rest of the story.

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