Dr. Dana Webb
The generous gift of the tiniest cells changed my entire world.
Diagnosed at age 13 with insulin-dependent diabetes, I grew up with all of its baggage. It was a big inconvenience about which I cursed and yet around which I adapted. This included chores like 10 finger pricks and 3 insulin injections each day, in attempts to anticipate my changing blood sugar levels. I remember the incessant carbohydrate counting, dietary restrictions, and the nagging fears of the inevitable dreaded complications which affect so many diabetics: blindness, nerve damage, and amputation of the feet. In fact, my diabetes is the primary reason I became a podiatric surgeon, with an emphasis on helping the diabetic patient in any way I could.
However, all of these issues pale in comparison to a complication I developed about 25 years later, known as hypersensitivity to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Most diabetics are alerted to low blood sugar when they become sweaty, shaky, disorientated or confused by even simple tasks. Diabetics know that when confronted by these warning signs we should get some juice or something to eat. Not only had I lost these warning signs but I denied them when my staff or family intervened. I would refuse their help because “I feel fine” until I would pass out, require emergency care, get pulled over for “drunk driving,” or even go into a seizure.
I had countless seizures, usually at night. The hypoglycemic events cost me two auto accidents, the loss of two employees, and the suspension of my hospital privileges. This created constant tension and resentment at work and home. It was a harsh strain on my marriage and discouraged me from joining social and family gatherings. No matter how hard I tried, I could not prevent another incident. I hated each and began to hate myself even more for causing such anxiety to those who I loved and yet, needed so much. It wasn’t fair to me; it especially wasn’t fair to them. At times, I even considered their lives without me.
Once I was diagnosed and learned I was not alone in this nightmare, my endocrinologist prescribed the latest in diabetic gadgets, the insulin pump and a real-time glucometer. They offered hope but in the end, were of no help.
Call it chance, fate, or serendipity, but one day I stumbled across a book at a public library that was about to be discarded. In Showdown With Diabetes, the author Deb Butterfield, recounted her very similar plight. Motivated by her successful pancreas transplant, I realized that there was only one hope for me: a cure. She listed research centers in the book which I desperatlely pursued until I was accepted into an experimental research program at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Led by a passionate and pioneering transplant surgeon, José Oberholzer, MD, and his dedicated staff; they have been transforming lives like mine and hoping to bring this elusive cure to all Type I diabetics. He heads one of the few centers performing an exciting advancement towards this goal, known as islet cell transplantation.
These microscopic cells, responsible for insulin production, are enzymatically removed from the donor pancreas and injected into my liver where they now reside and keep me insulin independent.
Since the transplant in March 2009, my blood sugar has remained normal and most importantly, I have not had a single low blood sugar event since. This incredible team and these very precious, donated cells, have taken me off the diabetic see-saw and restored the life I had 37 years ago. I can now work, sleep, drive safely, and enjoy my family again without this burdensome gorilla on my back. I have stability, and I have happiness.
Words alone cannot convey my profound appreciation for all this talented surgeon and staff have done for me and my family. So I will do all I can to provide them with data for their ongoing research in hopes that others will be cured like I was. This is the least thing I can do to thank an anonymous donor for a tiny tube of priceless cells that have transformed my life.
Printed with permission from Dana Webb.