Dogged doctors diagnose, successfully treat Farms man with rare condition

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 20, 2020

 Gary Corbin, of Grosse Pointe Farms, credits the doctors at Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe, with saving his life after a serious health scare this summer.

Gary Corbin, of Grosse Pointe Farms, credits the doctors at Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe, with saving his life after a serious health scare this summer.

Photo provided by Beaumont Health

GROSSE POINTE FARMS — Gary Corbin, of Grosse Pointe Farms, is either one of the luckiest men in the world, or one of the unluckiest.

He has had not one, not two, not three, but five near-death experiences, the most recent of which was this summer, when he was convinced he’d contracted COVID-19 but was diagnosed instead with serum sickness, a rare immune response similar to an allergic reaction.

It was only due to the determination of his doctors at Beaumont Hospital, Grosse Pointe, in Grosse Pointe City, that Corbin, 63, received the diagnosis and treatment that saved his life.

“I’ve learned that every day is a gift,” said Corbin, who is back to his healthy self after battling for his life in July. “You want to live it to the fullest and the best you can.”

While helping his significant other close up her Palm Beach Gardens home before the pair returned to Michigan in mid-June, Corbin dropped a heavy hurricane shutter, gashing his leg. Corbin treated the injury and covered it before hitting the road. Because he had been staying in Florida, a COVID-19 hot spot, and had stopped in several other states before he got back, Corbin’s doctor suggested he get a COVID-19 test.

Corbin went to a Beaumont Urgent Care facility for the test, where Physicians Assistant Heather Sutton noticed Corbin’s leg injury had turned into a growing infection. A culture was taken for testing, and Corbin received a prescription for the antibiotic Keflex.

Once the lab results were back two days later, Corbin got a call from urgent care letting him know it would be better for him to be taking Bactrim, a different antibiotic, so he was switched to that.

Instead of improving, however, Corbin found himself getting sicker, as his temperature rose, muscles and joints ached, and his legs, ankles and feet started swelling. Suspecting COVID-19 despite the earlier negative test result, Corbin headed to a Beaumont Urgent Care closer to his home for a second COVID test. When those results also came back negative, Corbin was told to treat his symptoms like he would a cold or the flu.

Over the next couple of days, Corbin’s condition deteriorated, with his temperature rising to more than 103 degrees and dehydration so profound, he knew he needed IV fluids. Not knowing if the previous COVID tests might have been false negatives, Corbin drove himself back to urgent care, despite feeling increasingly weak and ill.

The urgent care facility told him they couldn’t give him IV fluids and gave him a referral to Beaumont Hospital’s emergency center. Corbin desperately wanted to go home and collapse into bed, but as he reached the intersection where a left turn would take him home and a right turn would lead to the hospital, he felt something  nudging him to go right.

In the emergency room, Corbin was again tested for COVID-19, but his ER physician, Dr. Mark Sadzikowski, thought something else was the culprit.

“He told me about injuring his leg, taking two different antibiotics and his symptoms. The tests we ran showed elevated blood proteins and an abnormal white blood cell count,” Sadzikowski said in a press release.

Sadzikowski called several other medical specialists, including Dr. Joel Fishbain, an infectious disease physician. Based on Corbin’s antibiotic use, Fishbain suspected Corbin was suffering from serum sickness, which was confirmed by medical tests. To be certain that Corbin’s infection was gone, Fishbain ordered broad-spectrum antibiotics, and when a culture came back negative the following day, he gave Corbin the corticosteroid prednisone.

“Our treatment plan for Mr. Corbin had risks, yet we were confident he would respond well to the treatment,” Fishbain said in a press release.

Corbin said he “can’t say enough” about Fishbain and Sadzikowski. He was especially impressed by how much time Sadzikowski spent with him, trying to get to the root of the problem.

“(Sadzikowski) just wouldn’t give up,” Corbin said. “He was relentless.”

Corbin said doctors knew that the regimen could have been problematic if he’d been allergic to any of the new antibiotics they used, but he said they introduced those medications into his system gradually through an IV drip and monitored his condition closely to make sure he didn’t have any adverse reactions.

“It wasn’t more than 12 to 18 hours (later) before I felt like a million bucks,” Corbin said. “I felt like I was 20 again.”

The steroids led to temporary weight gain, but Corbin, whose active lifestyle includes golf, walking, yoga, boating and tennis, has since shed those pounds.

A Catholic and a man of deep faith, Corbin believes God steered him to the hospital. He’s grateful to have more time to spend with the special people in his life, including his family. Corbin is the father of three young adults — a daughter who owns a horse farm, a son who works in sales for a commercial plumbing supply business and a son who’s an engineer for an automotive supplier.

Corbin has high praise for Beaumont, saying the health system has “always been phenomenal” with his family.

“They saved my life in 2016, and they saved my life again (this summer),” he said.

Now working as an independent consultant in business development, Corbin is a former banker and chief financial officer in the automotive industry.

“I love the hunt,” Corbin said. “I love the deal-making. I love helping executives achieve their goals.”

He’s long been involved in a number of professional and charitable organizations, as well, including the Detroit Economic Club, Detroit Regional Chamber, Focus: HOPE, Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan, Society of Automotive Engineers, Junior Achievement of Southeast Michigan and the Michigan Council for Women in Technology.

Corbin and his significant other are heading east this fall before returning to Florida for the winter.

“Right now, I’m just trying to decide if I’m going to retire, semi-retire or go off on my own,” Corbin said. “I’m just trying to take my time to figure out what I want to do.”