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Most local ninth-graders are busy navigating the halls and figuring out the tricks of life at Juneau-Douglas High School. But Andrew Gibb, who would have been a freshman at the school this fall, is overcoming his own kind of challenge.
Gibb, 14, has been in the intensive care unit at Children's Hospital in Seattle since late June, when his Juneau doctor found his white blood cell count to be dangerously low, said his mother, Cheryle Rice.
Gibb had gone to the doctor because of a high fever. Soon after arriving in Seattle, though, he went into respiratory failure. Five days after that, his lungs collapsed and he was put on a blood bypass system that gave him oxygen, Rice said.
In early August, blood was discovered seeping through holes in the membranes that surround the lungs. Emergency surgery found a large blood clot in Gibb's chest cavity, his mother said. The clot was removed and the internal bleeding has stopped.
"He's been getting better ever since," Rice said. "We're just hoping that he'll continue improving, but it's going to take a long time because his lungs were pretty damaged from them being closed up."
About a year and a half ago, Gibb was diagnosed as neutropenic - being short of neutrophils, the most common type of white blood cells. But when he first was diagnosed, the severity of his disease was minimal, so doctors decided not to treat it, Rice said.
Neutrophils are produced in the blood marrow. To treat Gibb's disease now, doctors are considering a bone marrow transplant, which would in theory cause Gibb to resume production of neutrophils. Though doctors have not yet prescribed the transplant, Gibb has been put on a national registry to find compatible bone marrow donors, his mother said.
"They're looking for potential donors just because if they do need to do it it takes so long to find a donor," she said.
While Gibb and his family have been struggling in Seattle, friends in Juneau have pitched in to support them.
"His mom and dad are down there with him in the hospital, but then he has a younger brother and sister and they can't stay with them in the hospital, so they've been staying with people here," said Susan Marthaller, a family friend.
Marthaller and other friends have organized a spaghetti feed fund-raiser that will most likely take place at Chapel by the Lake on Sept. 28, Gibb's 15th birthday. Several other bake sales, one at Floyd Dryden Middle School, where Gibb was a student last year, and one at the high school, are also in the planning stages.
When Gibb will be able to return to Juneau is still unknown, Rice said.
In the meantime, Rice and her husband, Doug Rice, are staying close to Gibb to be around for his infrequent arousals from a drug-induced sleep.
"He's still real sedated," she said. "It's pretty painful. He has periods of wakefulness and he talks to us, but they say ... when he gets better he probably won't remember any of this."
Cards and donations can be sent to Andrew Gibb, c/o Children's Hospital, P.O. Box 5371, Seattle, WA, 98105-0371.