HURST — This time a year ago L.D. Bell baseball coach Paul Gibson was not only leading his team on an unexpected playoff run, he was trying to figure out why his body was failing him.
A sudden variety of physical ailments and an alarming loss of energy sent Gibson, 49, to the family doctor in April 2012. After a series of tests, which included a bone marrow biopsy later that May, he found himself at Texas Oncology in Grapevine.
“That’s the first time I really thought this thing was serious,” Gibson said. “I had actually gotten there before Cherie did, my wife, she was on her way, and I just said my prayers and asked myself what am I doing here at a cancer place. It was at that point that it definitely got our attention.”
Gibson said he was diagnosed in June with amyloidosis, a rare, life-threatening disease that causes abnormal proteins to build up in organs. That news came just weeks after the Blue Raiders’ playoff run ended in the 2012 Class 5A Region I semifinals against Arlington Martin.
Gibson’s sons Blake, now a senior third baseman on the team, and Bryce, who also played for his father at Bell and is now student at Texas, were at home when their parents returned from the doctor’s office.
“Me and my brother were just expecting it to be something small, we didn’t think it was going to be a big deal, but when they came home my mom was crying,” Blake said. “We all just started crying, and we realized it was going to be a different year and summer than we expected. It was hard for us to grasp it.”
Though there is no known cure for amyloidosis, the symptoms can be managed through treatment.
Less than a month later, Gibson and Cherie traveled to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., where they would spend the next six weeks while the coach endured a stem cell transplant and two rounds of chemotherapy.
The day after he was diagnosed there was a prayer vigil at Bell’s baseball diamond. Myriad community fundraisers have helped the Gibsons defray some of the costs.
“It put people who wouldn’t usually be in the same room together in the same room; and what was really cool was we started hearing how they were impacting each other,” Gibson said. “People’s marriages were saved, their faith was restored, and we just heard countless stories of that. It was really powerful stuff.”
Gibson said he never thought of retiring and that a leave of absence was “out of the question,” but during a November checkup it was found that the disease was not in full remission and he would need another round of chemotherapy. From mid-December through mid-April he underwent three-week cycles of pills and injections.
Despite having to coach from a chair or the dugout on most days, Gibson, in the midst of his 20th season at Bell, said it hasn’t affected his methods. The results certainly bear that out as the Blue Raiders (21-21) open a regional semifinals series against Martin at 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
In addition to getting to coach his son for his senior season, Gibson has enjoyed yet another improbable playoff run, which began with the fourth-place qualifiers from District 6-5A upsetting Flower Mound, then ranked No. 7 in the state, in the first round. Gibson also picked up his 400th victory in the process.
“It was cool to see after losing Game 1 to Flower Mound how we all just got together and decided we needed to win my dad’s 400th win,” Blake Gibson said.
Paul Gibson said whatever happens this week on the diamond and whatever news he receives on his next checkup, he has found a peace in his faith and believes he has the proper perspective.
“I haven’t worried about it, I haven’t feared anything,” Gibson said. “From a physical standpoint I wasn’t feeling right and I’m still not, but I’m not worried it could get worse. From the moment they told me that we had it and that it was serious, I knew it was happening for a reason, that God was doing this for a reason.”
Jarret Johnson 817-390-7760 Twitter: @JohnsonJarret
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