For all it gave him, Lincoln doctor gives back to UNMC
“They took a chance on me,” says Dr. Don Gibbens, “and I can never repay what they did for me.”
Posted: Wed, Oct 19, 2016
Every breath on Earth begins the same way:
And every year since graduating from UNMC’s medical school three decades ago, Dr. Don Gibbens, a Lincoln OB-GYN, has seen about 240 births – and about that many first breaths.
Sometimes he's seen death.
“When it comes to being a human being, there are very few more joyous times in a couple’s life than having a baby,” he says. “On the other side of the coin, if there’s a problem with the baby, it also can be a tumultuous time.
“It’s a specialty that I think gives you a perspective on life that a lot of other people don’t have.”
It’s given him a great life.
He says this one recent morning at a coffeehouse called The Mill, in the College View area of Lincoln. He likes to come here to meet people because it’s near his private practice. He’s here to be interviewed for a story about a gift he’s given to UNMC’s OB-GYN department:
The Donald L. Gibbens Family Fund.
“I was very fortunate to have gotten admitted to the Class of 1985,” Don says. “They took a chance on me, and I can never repay what they did for me. This is an attempt to try to say thank you for trusting in this big dumb football player.”
(Don played linebacker at Lincoln Southeast and then at Nebraska Wesleyan. He still has a football player’s build, though now he does Pilates to stay in shape.)
“I still am worried that someday I’m going to get a note from the University of Nebraska: Dr. Gibbens, we made a mistake and we’re going to take the medical degree back …”
This interview, he warns, may be cut short if his cell phone tells him that yet another baby is on its way. That’s the life of a physician, he says. A lot of life interruptions. That’s why he tried to steer his three kids away from a career in medicine.
But one didn’t listen – his oldest child, Jake.
Like his dad, Jake Gibbens also went to medical school at UNMC. He finished his OB residency at UNMC last year and is now in his second year of a maternal-fetal medicine fellowship in Jackson, Mississippi.
Don was still a medical student when his wife, Valerie, gave birth to Jake. Like most first-time fathers, Don says, he couldn’t believe what he saw that day and how his wife was so strong and survived a hard birth. (Jake weighed over 10 pounds.)
“I just sat there like any father and went, ‘Wow.’”
Don will never forget that day.
He’ll never forget his first-born’s first breath.
He’ll never forget Gross Anatomy class that first year at UNMC and how it connected him and the other med students to life and death in a hands-on way. He had a female cadaver. He remembers how his professors taught them to treat every body (and every human being) with respect. He’ll never forget the ceremony they had to honor people who donated their bodies to help them learn how to be doctors.
He’ll never forget his professors.
One of them, Dr. Carl V. Smith, was a former military man like his dad. He talked like a former military man, too. Even though Dr. Smith was very young back then, Don says, he commanded the students’ respect. He always demanded that they base their medical decisions on science.
“He made you be very thoughtful about how you managed your decisions,” Don says.
He smiles again.
“I hear his voice almost every day.”
Dr. Smith now directs UNMC’s OB-GYN program, and the two are friends. Don said he wanted his fund to support OB-GYN students partly because of his respect for Dr. Smith.
“He’s now educated two generations of Gibbenses.”
Don also wanted his fund to support residents. He’ll never forget how hard life was when he was a resident. His fund has helped pay for iPads that let the residents access information quickly as they make their rounds.
He’s also helping to pay for a residents’ lounge.
“It makes me feel good,” he says. “Anything I could do to make a resident’s life a little better – that’s what I established the fund for.”
It actually was one of his own patients, a young mother-to-be, who first planted the seed of giving back to UNMC. She worked at the University of Nebraska Foundation as a UNMC fundraiser at the time. One day at his office, she heard him talk about how much he valued his med school years. She asked him:
Why wait until you’re old to give back?
“All I do is give $1,000 a month,” he says. “I’ve committed for $100,000, and it really hasn’t been a big deal. I haven’t had to scrimp in order to do it – it’s like just another car payment I make on a monthly basis. I think most physicians would be able to do something like this, too.”
He hopes his story inspires other alumni to remember UNMC.
And the great life it gave them, too.