DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE - CONGRESSIONALLY DIRECTED MEDICAL RESEARCH PROGRAMS
Tony and Gabby Galbo
Gabby and her father, Tony

Gabriella “Gabby” Galbo was a vibrant 5-year-old, described by her parents as a beautiful soul with a contagious smile that could light up a room. She loved cupcakes, animals, and spending time with her family. Gabby was the youngest of Tony and Liz Galbo’s three daughters, and she had a bright and promising future ahead of her. Gabby’s life ended too soon, when an untreated tick-borne disease called Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) led to sepsis and septic shock, to which she ultimately succumbed.

On May 1, 2012, Gabby awoke with a fever and chest pain. A negative strep test led her pediatrician to believe that a routine viral infection was the cause of her symptoms, and Gabby’s parents were instructed to treat her fever at home with ibuprofen. However, the next day Gabby’s fever spiked to 105 degrees and a red, spotted rash appeared all over her body. Gabby’s parents took her to the local emergency room where she was diagnosed with tonsillitis, given injectable and oral antibiotics, and sent home. As Gabby’s symptoms and rash worsened, on May 3 just eight hours after the emergency room visit, her mother took her back to the pediatrician who instructed continued fever treatment and sent Gabby home with an atypical coxsackievirus diagnosis. At this same visit, the pediatrician dictated in Gabby’s chart that RMSF wasn’t likely, but RMSF wasn’t mentioned to Gabby’s mother, nor was a tick exposure history captured. Within 2 days, Gabby’s fever spiked to 106 degrees, she had lack of balance, and her urine output was minimal. Her parents then took her to an emergency room at a level one trauma hospital and continued to question doctors about her diagnosis. The doctors again discharged Gabby, who was now lethargic and could not walk on her own, as they assured her parents that her bloodwork was normal and that the fever would subside after the virus had run its course. The next day, Gabby’s father followed up with her pediatrician and asked about the results from the blood draw performed at the emergency room visit. The blood panel revealed clear indicators of sepsis and was not, in fact, normal. Gabby’s parents were instructed to rush her back to the hospital and told that she should have never been discharged home. Despite the seriousness of her condition, Gabby was not treated urgently, and her blood pressure dropped to dangerous levels, while her parents were given minimal information by hospital physicians. It was not until May 8, when Gabby’s condition had deteriorated even further, that doctors suspected that she may have been septic and began questioning her parents about tick-borne diseases, specifically RMSF. Although multiple doctors suspected that Gabby may have contracted RMSF, none treated her for the disease. Gabby’s eyes, hands, feet, and abdomen swelled, and she began have breathing difficulties. On May 8, she was intubated and airlifted to a children’s hospital 90 miles away, where multiple doctors worked to save her life. She was given doxycycline within the first 2 hours of her arrival, but as a result of the RMSF that had been left untreated for too long, she developed systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), sepsis, and then shock. Gabby passed away on May 11, 2012.

Despite multiple visits to her pediatrician and two different emergency rooms, Gabby was continually misdiagnosed. From the time her symptoms appeared to when she was finally diagnosed as septic, Gabby had been misdiagnosed four times, costing critical time in which she could have been treated and saved. Gabby’s autopsy confirmed RMSF, the diagnosis that at least three of her attending physicians had considered but failed to treat despite Gabby’s fever, her compatible bloodwork, and the iconic spotted rash spread across her body. Together Gabby’s parents, Tony and Liz Galbo, have championed “Gabby’s Law,” which requires Illinois hospitals to adopt, implement, and periodically update evidence-based protocols which will better recognize and treat sepsis. The legislation received unanimous support in both the Senate and the House and was passed in 2016. Gabby’s parents have also campaigned to improve public health awareness by advocating for both required coursework for clinicians on local ticks and the diseases that they carry and for public outreach programs that are coordinated through local and state public health departments. Tony Galbo joined the TBDRP Programmatic Panel in FY17, where he continues to advocate for improved resources for frequently overlooked illnesses such as RMSF and honor the memory of his 5-year-old daughter Gabby, who was gone too soon.

To learn more about Gabby’s story please visit gabbyslaw.org.

Last updated Wednesday, April 17, 2019