Family bonds made stronger through transplant journey

April 25, 2024
Group of happy looking people, some wearing green, gather to ring a bell.
Family and friends gather to ring the bell celebrating Victor Gibson and his niece, Brittney Evans. Gibson and Evans are standing immediately beside the bell in matching T-shirts. Photos provided

The bell on the sixth floor of the MUSC University Hospital clanged again and again to celebrate a renewed life and the donor who made a kidney transplant possible. Tears, laughter and joyous sounds of celebration surrounded the family and friends who traveled from near and far to support and celebrate Victor Gibson's new kidney and Brittney Evans' “sharing her spare” the day after their surgery at MUSC Health in Charleston.


“She’s my superhero,” said Gibson, with tears in his eyes as they hugged. “She was my lifeline during this challenging journey, and I will be forever grateful.”


The decision to donate a kidney was easy for Evans. “He’s my uncle. He’s always been there for me,” she said. That’s what family does for each other – we support each other, lift each other up when they are down and celebrate together. I’m just grateful I was a match, and honestly, the whole process was pretty easy.”


Evans, an advanced practice provider, said she did a rotation in a dialysis clinic during her training, which helped her to understand the challenges people on dialysis face and the value of an organ from a living donor, which lasts twice as long. She is grateful she was able to “share her spare” and hopes she can help others to understand how easy it is to become an organ donor. 

Two people hug. One is attached to a medical machine. 
Gibson and Evans hug wearing matching T-shirts. His says "Kidney recipient." Hers says "Kidney donor."

What she didn’t expect was how great she would feel after her surgery. “I had my kidney removed robotically, and I had very little pain after the surgery. That night, I was able to walk into my uncle’s room to see how he was doing and hug him. And the next day, shortly after we rang the transplant bell, I was able to go home.”


Teresa Rice, M.D. 
Dr. Tracy Rice

“Organ donation is a wonderful gift, and it is an honor to be able to care for these living organ donors who are true heroes,” said Tracy Rice, M.D., surgical director of the Living Donor Program, who performed Evans' robotic nephrectomy. “Considering these donors have given such a tremendous gift – the gift of life – it’s pretty significant that we now offer a more comfortable recovery by virtue of the surgery completed using the da Vinci Surgical System, a robotic surgical system that uses a minimally invasive surgical approach.”


With 90 under her belt, Rice has a unique skill set in robotic donor nephrectomy that greatly benefits her patients. She said there are many benefits to the living donor when the nephrectomy is done robotically, including reduced hospital stays, less pain and fewer complications. “Over 90% of our donor patients are going home the day after surgery, just like Brittney,” said Rice. “And their pain requirements postoperatively are about half what they are with a laparoscopic approach.


“I’d like people to know that organ donation is safe, and you can live a full, active life with one kidney,” she said. “And that living donor organs are the gold standard for kidney transplants because they last longer and are such great quality. That being said, my priority as the donor surgeon is safety for the living donor and doing what is best for them. I am so thankful for amazing people like Brittney who volunteer to donate an organ.”


The story behind the family bonds that became even stronger


Gibson and his two sisters lost their parents when they were very young. Their grandparents raised them, and then their uncle stepped in to keep the family together once they died. Even when he joined the Air Force at 17, where he became part of an elite group of jet engine mechanics, he went home to see his two sisters every time he got leave. Stationed in Charleston, he met and married his wife, Johnnie Mae. When he was later stationed in the United Kingdom, she not only joined him, but she also joined the Air Force. They have been married for 46 years.


When they returned to the United States, Victor Gibson, having served 16 years in the military, was honorably discharged from the Air Force. He earned a business management degree at Bowie State University while working at the United States Postal Service for 10 years while Johnnie Mae Gibson was stationed at the Pentagon. After earning his degree, he remained at the Postal Service and entered management.

Man and woman have arms around each other's backs. 
Victor and Johnnie Mae Gibson.

He became plant manager at the Charleston Processing and Distribution Center and retired after 40 years of combined government service. Eventually, after fully retiring, the couple built their dream home in Hollywood, S.C., where Victor Gibson got to golf daily, and his wife studied to become a chef. Victor Gibson said that when he moved permanently to South Carolina, he had the opportunity to become even closer to his wife's family. The couple traveled often, many times making the trek to Cincinnati and spending time with their nieces and nephews. Life was good.


Out of the blue, it seemed, his kidneys started to fail. No one is certain as to why they failed, but it soon became apparent the illness was taking a toll on his life. As he reached the point of needing dialysis, he learned how to do it at home so he didn’t have to travel to a dialysis center, but still, it was limiting. The Gibsons traveled less, and he couldn’t spend long days on the golf course. Instead, he spent long hours hooked up to the dialysis machine.


After two years of dialysis, his quality of life was grim, and the Gibsons knew it was time to reach out to family and friends to let them know it was time for him to get a kidney transplant. “We don’t have children of our own, but we have a tremendous extended family and incredible friends,” she said. “We reached out both personally and through Facebook, letting people know Victor needed a kidney.”


Two family members, nephew Michael Gibson and niece Brittney Evans, and one close friend, Steve Slaughter, offered to donate a kidney of their own. When Victor Gibson got the call from Evans that she was a match, tears came to his eyes. His wife said that when he got off the phone, she thought something was wrong because he was crying. But they were tears of joy.


Evans was emotional, too. “I was elated when I found out I was a match,” said Evans. “It was such a privilege to do this for my uncle. And with my medical background, I never felt scared. I knew it was going to be OK.”


The surgery was set for March 13. On the day of his surgery, family and friends flocked to the waiting room – many wearing their “team gear,” showing their support and love of family. Evans' family, including her husband, Tariq; mom, Jennifer Long; sister, Tenia; and Victor’s niece Shannon, traveled from Cincinnati to support Evans and the Gibsons.

Johnnie Mae Gibson's family lives close by, and there to support her on the day of surgery were her niece, Malisha Mitchell, an LPN at MUSC; her sister, Myra Dawson, who was a molecular geneticist in an MUSC Biochemistry Lab for 31 years; her brothers Isaac and Leroy Leach and Leroy’s wife, Jennifer. Friends traveled locally and from as far away as Tampa to celebrate Gibson and Evans and be part of their support system.


As each new person arrived, the staff would announce, “We have someone joining the “Team Victor and Brittney party!” 

Prabhakar Baliga 
Dr. Prabhakar Baliga

As Rice, Evans' surgeon, showed the loved ones the photo of her kidney, complete with Evans' prewritten note to her uncle, the gathering of family and friends erupted in cheers, embraces and joy, celebrating the new life Victor Gibson had just received.

“When Victor’s surgeon, Dr. Baliga informed us that the kidney was functioning, and the surgery was a success, there was such jubilation in the waiting area!” said Johnnie Mae Gibson. Prabhakar Baliga, M.D., is the chairman of the Department of Surgery and a renowned transplant expert. 


The family agreed that they couldn’t have asked for a better medical team. “The nephrologists, nurses, surgeons and anesthesiologists were all great,” said Johnnie Mae Gibson. “But it went beyond that – everyone was so friendly on the floor. When the food service staff found out I like to cook, they took time to chat with us when we ordered our food. We’d have a conversation about what was on the menu, and one night, they sent me fresh strawberries and pineapples!”


Victor Gibson said his journey was truly blessed. “I could not be more grateful to Brittney. We don’t know where we’d be without her or how to thank her enough,” he said. “Of one thing I am sure: Many blessings will come her way for giving me this gift of life.”


“Family is everything,” he continued. “They all came from far and near to make sure we were OK. And, as a result, it brought us even closer and gave us time together to celebrate.” 

About living kidney donation

More than 90,000 people are currently on the national list waiting for a kidney transplant and facing an average wait time of three to five years. Sadly, the supply of kidneys from deceased donors falls short of meeting this demand, leading to the tragic reality that thousands of people die each year awaiting an organ transplant. There is another way, however. Living kidney donation is an excellent option for qualified donors and recipients. Donating a kidney to a family member, friend, co-worker or even a stranger is often the best way to provide the lifesaving treatment they need. To learn more, visit this page.

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