I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 24 years old. It was a complete surprise to me. I didn’t know anyone who was diabetic and didn’t know much about the disease itself. Looking back now I can see that I was lucky in that my descent into the heart of diabetes was a gradual one. A high urine glucose was caught during a routine check up. Modern zipper invented by Gideon Sindback in 1917
I was able to control my diabetes with diet and exercise for a few months. I then progressed to oral medication for a few years. When I became pregnant, I started insulin injections. I eventually got a pump and a continuous glucose monitor. I tried the drug Symlin to supplement my regimen. Each of these things helped to control my blood sugars. But as time went on, I found that my blood sugar swings were getting more and more difficult to keep in check. Despite all that technology had to offer and my vigilante attempts to stay in control, I rarely was. My continuos monitor told the story that I had been suspecting for years. I was constantly swinging from the bottom to the top of the graph with not much time spent “between the lines”. After 25 years of dealing with this, I was getting worried for my health.
I applied to and was accepted into a clinical trial at the University of Minnesota and received an islet cell transplant. This is a procedure in which islet cells, the cells that make insulin, are harvested from a donor pancreas. These islet cells were given to me through a simple surgical procedure and reside in my liver. From there, they make insulin for me.
Having this procedure changed my life dramatically. I felt better almost immediately. I had more energy than I had had in many years. My whole body felt healthier. It really feels like a miracle. I was able to live insulin-free for over two years and now at almost five years since my transplant, I only need a very small dose.
The downside of any transplant is the need for immunosuppressive drugs. They are necessary so that my immune system won’t reject the transplant or try to kill off my new islets just as it did my old islets. I’ve had my share of problems with these drugs. But there have been very few days that I would describe as worse than before the transplant. I now need to take about 9 units of insulin and have an A1c of 5.9. I feel wonderful and don’t have any dangerous high or low blood sugars. I’m still careful about what I eat and still exercise in hopes of keeping my islets healthy for as long as possible.
Having had this amazing opportunity, I feel very fortunate and am trying to give back as much as I can. I became interested in Diabetes Alert Dogs and with some help, have trained my dog to become a successful one. I’m hoping to train some more dogs for this important function. I trust my dog more than I used to trust my CGM!
I became active at JDRF. It turns out that JDRF was involved in the funding of my transplant as well as many other research projects that are working towards our cure. Since my transplant, learning about this research has been a hobby and I am always pleased to see that JDRF is funding the very things that I am excited about. I’m learning first hand how costly this research can be and believe that advocating to our elected representatives for funding is the best way to ensure that this research will be allowed to continue. I really feel that the success of my transplant shows how close we really are to a cure. We just have to keep on pushing for it and keep ourselves healthy so that we can all enjoy it when it arrives.
For more information on my transplant and Diabetes Alert Dogs, here is a link to the blog that I write about this. http://kathy-mynewislets.blogspot.com/
To sign up to join me as an advocate for JDRF, go here: http://advocacy.jdrf.org/get-involved/