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A faithful life brings courage in adversity

By Kay S. Pedrotti If the old saw is true, Jimmy Gilbert could have been a cat with nine lives ‘“ or even the equal of two cats. Physical troubles have plagued his life; several brushes with death still do not worry him. ’Well, I just never let anything much interfere with my life or work,’ he said. ‘I knew God was looking after me.’ He and his wife Erin Gilbert have no children but Erin has chronicled Jimmy’s struggles and passed the story on to their nieces and nephews whom they have come to love as their own. The many family photos in their home reflect those feelings. According to Erin’s story, ‘Jimmy has faced many perils in this life. As a baby of 3 he was thrown out of a car in a wreck and suffered a skull fracture.’ Most of the other health problems have been the result of renal failure and the resulting kidney transplant. Jimmy is now doing what is known as Continuous Ambulatory Peritoneal Dialysis (CAPD), involving a complicated setup the patient wears, instead of being hooked up to a dialysis machine multiple times a week. He had a kidney transplant Dec. 20, 1984, endured many adverse effects of the antirejection drug cyclosporin and has now been without the drug since June 2011. ’It is through God’s love that all the miracles happened,’ Erin said. The prayers, support and visits of their congregation, Barnesville First Baptist, and its pastor Garth Forster, ‘have really blessed us and held us up.’ Kidney transplant recipients who don’t keep taking an anti-rejection drug are extremely rare, according to her narrative. Jimmy was born in Zebulon, when his parents were traveling to move from Connecticut to Miami, Fla. His dad was in the Coast Guard, he said, and when Jimmy was about 6 or 7 the CG captured a German sub off the coast of Florida. ’They had to turn it loose because the war hadn’t started yet,’ Jimmy said. His parents moved to Barnesville in about 1942 because earlier Gilbert ancestors had lived here, Erin said. Jimmy said he had ‘two years at Auburn, three years at Mercer and two years at Georgia Tech but I never did graduate.’ His first work was with Carter’s here. He and Erin married ‘on his vacation from Carter’s,’ Erin said. Then in the 1960s he went to work as a tool designer for Lockheed in Marietta. In 1969 he began to notice swelling in his feet and legs. His diagnosis was glomerulonephritis, a kidney disease that usually took people’s lives in about five or six years, his doctor told him. Following a low protein diet for two years, he then had other symptoms calling for hemodialysis. The couple traveled to Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta three days a week. By this time, he was working at Gordon College and she was teaching at Lamar County Elementary. They talked the Piedmont doctors into training them to do the dialysis at home. ’We had great success with this and even took the whole machine with us on vacation,’ Erin said. Jimmy described a near-tragedy he now thinks is sort of funny. One time the couple’s home lost electricity during the dialysis. Without the machine to pump blood, Jimmy did it himself by hand. ’I had about a pint out,’ he said. ‘I didn’t stop to think I just went ahead and did it.’ They almost lost the window for Jimmy’s transplant, Erin said, because they got a latenight call from the doctor that they missed. Jimmy said when they showed up for an appointment the next morning, the doctor said, ‘You’re supposed to be in Augusta for a transplant.’ They arrived at the Medical College of Georgia about 4 p.m. and the perfect-match kidney, flown in from Indianapolis, was connected to his body by the next morning. ’I was shocked to see him with a bright red face instead of a pale face,’ Erin said. Jimmy added, ‘Yeah, I was looking like a spook before I got the kidney.’ Jimmy retired from Gordon after serving as supervisor of grounds, director of audio-visual services, administrative secretary and auditor of central stores. ’Every time I had a discussion with Dr. Jerry Williamson (then the president of Gordon), I got another job,’ Jimmy said. For a time he served on the Lamar County school board and encouraged establishing a magnet school for advanced students. He is excited about the new college and career academy. Other problems Jimmy suffered were heart catheterization and bypass surgery due to the kidney drugs, prostate cancer, lumbar stenosis and ongoing Merkel cell skin cancers. Merkel cell is a fast-metastasizing skin cancer that required the surgical removal of all lymph nodes on the left side of Jimmy’s neck. He is constantly monitored for any new flare-ups. Erin is diabetic and the pair ‘really try to watch what we eat every day,’ she said. Her advice for anyone facing health problems would be ‘follow the diets and the doctor’s instructions ‘“ it’s so important.’ Jimmy urges young people this way: ‘Live a clean life, no cigarettes, alcohol or drugs, and go to the doctor at least two or three times a year after age 35.’ It also helps to find a good spouse to stay with, both said. After 53 years of marriage, ‘We continue to count all our blessings every day.’

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