Former UC Berkeley student, Cloyne resident dies 7 years after drug overdose

Madelyn Bennett/Courtesy
Former UC Berkeley student John Gibson, pictured on the right, died Sunday at the age of 28 after suffering irreversible brain damage from a near-fatal drug overdose in 2010.

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John Gibson, a former UC Berkeley student and Cloyne Court co-op resident, sustained irreversible brain damage from a near-fatal drug overdose in 2010. After seven years and $3 million of medical bills, Gibson died Sunday in hospice care at the age of 28.

According to Gibson’s mother Madelyn Bennett, the coroner’s report showed that Gibson’s overdose while he was living in Cloyne was the primary cause of his death.

“He was in a coma for 6 weeks (after he overdosed),” Bennett said. “They put a trach in his throat, which they didn’t take out … so he never spoke again. We got his weight back up, but basically he was wheelchair bound.”

Because of the overdose, Gibson suffered an anoxic brain injury, which required over $500,000 worth of treatment each year. Bennett said she and her husband turned their living room into a “hospital room,” hired around-the-clock nurses at $28 per hour, paid for physical and speech therapy and even started a business to qualify for medical insurance.

“Obamacare was not yet the law of the land. My husband and I formed a corporation and put him on as a no-show employee so that he could have employee’s insurance,” she said. “When I turned 59, I took my pension, all of it, and spent that. When my husband turned 59, he took his IRA and spent all of that.”

In 2012, Bennett sued the Berkeley Student Cooperative, or BSC, and the UC Board of Regents for not adequately training and supervising health workers, who provide medical services for students living on campus.

Bennett said it took more than four hours for someone to call 911 after Gibson had entered cardiac arrest. Charles Kelly, who represented Bennett in the lawsuit, alleged that only three of the four health workers in Cloyne at the time knew CPR.

“His roommates and several other people saw that he had a heart attack and did nothing about it,” Bennett alleged. “They let him die.”

The lawsuit was settled two years later for $750,000. That same year, Cloyne Court became a substance-free house in the BSC, and the members at the time were not allowed to return the next semester.

“We have improved our training for all managers in the BSC since that time, and we are currently recognized as one of the safest organized housing providers on campus,” said BSC President Zach Gamlieli in an email. “We’ve received accolades from the Dwight-Hillside Happy Neighbors Group, [email protected], (and) representatives from the Chancellor’s office.”

The Responsible Bystander Policy, which went into effect last year, states that underage students will not be disciplined for reporting “alcohol or controlled substance emergencies.” According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, the campus recognizes students’ reluctance to report medical emergencies for fear of potential consequences.

“The responsible bystander policy was not prompted by the Gibson incident,” Gilmore said in an email. “The policy was requested by students in 2014 (including ASUC senators) as a way of encouraging students who themselves might be in violation of the Code of Student Conduct (principally by drinking) to report medical emergencies involving their fellow students.”

According to Kim Benson, BSC executive director, the co-ops adopted a similar Good Samaritan Policy in 2011 — a year after Gibson’s overdose.

Kelly said the Good Samaritan Policy was actually implemented earlier than 2011 for Cloyne, but that the BSC did not provide sufficient education to residents about it.

“Had they called 911, nothing would have happened,” Bennett alleged. “He would have been fine in a week.”

Contact Anjali Shrivastava at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.