Couple preparing for bone marrow transplant

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 2, 2019

After being diagnosed with myelodysplasia, or preleukemia, Opp native Gary Roberts has finally found a donor for a bone marrow transplant, but now he and his wife need help financially to get them through what will be a long recovery in which neither will be able to work.

“Gary has always been on the watch, because of his low blood count,” Tina Roberts said. “When he had his pacemaker put in in 2016 they made sure to keep watching him because of the low blood count.”

Roberts was working as a truck driver in Florala until he was forced to change jobs because of his illness.

“They were making him work more than he could handle,” Roberts said. “So he chose to change jobs so he could get more rest. He then got a job with the city of Opp, but that work was more physical labor.”

The couple thought that his illness was just allergies, until they remembered the pacemaker.

“I remembered when he had the pacemaker put in,” Roberts said. “There was a 50 percent blockage and that is when I started to get really concerned that this blockage may be something more than what we thought. I told him that he had to go to the doctor, but he didn’t want to go because of insurance problems.”

On April 12, 2018, the two went to Hook’s Barbeque to have an anniversary dinner, and Roberts said that when she looked up from her meal, her husband had a tear in his eye.

“He looked at me and said, ‘I just can’t do the work babe,” she recalled. “All the guys are doing the work for me and they’re calling me grandpa.’ It really just tore my heart up.”

After that incident, the couple decided to go to the cardiologist to have tests run.

“We went to the cardiologist because I thought that it was his heart,” Roberts said. “They told him that they would run some tests, but he didn’t want them run yet because of insurance problems again. So, we took him home and then the doctor called me again and told me that I needed to bring him back immediately because his blood levels were so low that he needed two units of blood. He was extremely anemic.”

After the transfusion, they went to the hematologist and Roberts learned that he had to have another bone marrow biopsy.

“Gary told the doctor that he had to wait until May so he could be covered by insurance,” Roberts said. “The city of Opp agreed to hold his job until he gets the biopsy and we see what happens. May 5, he had the biopsy done and on May 15 they called us back with the results.”

Roberts was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, preleukemia, with the only option at the time being chemotherapy.

“Gary looked right at the doctor and asked her how long he had to live,” Roberts said. “And she said that she didn’t know. He told her that he was not taking chemotherapy, and then she said that she would have to call hospice if he wasn’t going to take chemotherapy. That told me that it this was very serious.”

Roberts tried four months of chemotherapy with no response, and has become transfusion dependent. Now the couple has sought another opinion from the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., and those doctors advised that Roberts’ only hope is a bone marrow transplant.

“The doctors told us that two people have gone in and donated at the national registry,” Roberts said. “But the doctor has not had a chance to review the results yet. They will have an answer for us Tuesday as to whether it will be a donor or his brother, who is a 50 percent match.”

Roberts’ wife will have to stay in the Gabriel house and act as Roberts’ caregiver for three to six months.

“He will have to stay in the hospital for about three to six months,” Roberts said. “After the first 100 days he will be released to me so I can be his caregiver, but for each night in the Gabriel house it is $35.”

Right now, Roberts’ wife is working overtime at a grocery store to save as much as she can for the housing.

“I told my boss that I would work as much as possible,” Roberts said. “Just to try and put as much money in the bank as I can for the costs that are going to be coming. I’ve been averaging about 53 to 57 hours a week.”

Despite everything, Roberts said that her husband has had a great spirit.

“He is really weak, so he stays home a lot,” Roberts said. “But he just has a great spirit and loves life. We know that this is God’s will and we will remain obedient. We will be giving all the glory to God.”

She said that people that know her and her husband have been amazing through the entire situation.

“They have been generous and wonderful and their spirituality has been amazing,” Roberts said.

Through everything, Roberts’ said that her husband is her hero.

“He is truly my hero,” Roberts said.

The couple hopes that the transplant will be in January.

Currently their GoFundMe (listed as TinaandGary Roberts) has $1,155 of their $6,000 goal.

They will also have a Blood Cancer Benefit Auction on Jan., 12, 2019, starting at 7 p.m., at 2951 County Road 427, Kinston. All proceeds will aid in Roberts’ medical cost and lost income.

For more information, contact Tina Roberts at 334-488-7229.