Judith-Rae Ross

Her Story: Thoughts on Living With A Miracle
by Judith-Rae Ross, Ph.D.

On February 26, 2009 I was wheeled into X-ray at UIC hospital, and Dr. Oberholzer injected three bags of Islet cells into my liver. On April 13th, I took my last Insulin dose.  I’m writing this to shed light on how my life has changed since that islet transplantation.

What a difference—living without Insulin after being Insulin dependent for 29 ½ years.  Each day since the transplant it seems something new and wonderful happens.

Post-transplant, the first thing I noticed was I wasn’t continuously hungry.  While using Insulin I was always hungry.  Even after the most filling meal, hunger remained. Normal blood sugars hinge on following a balanced, calorie-controlled diet, but when hunger is a 24/7 companion, maintaining that balance takes superhuman will power.  “Jaw’s” appetite had nothing on me.  I gained weight; my clothes size zoomed to 16.  Since the transplant, I’ve declared victory in the “Battle of the Bulge.”  G’bye size 16; hello size 6!

My eyesight improved.  In April, my driver’s license came up for renewal, and I was nervous.  I only had to take the eye exam, but that machine hated me—the last time I took the eye exam, it could have gone either way. But this exam was post-Islet Cell transplant.  No more broken blood vessels in my eyes.  The machine still hates me, but I blurted out the line correctly, and before I knew it was posing for my current driver’s license picture.  I walked into my 9 am meeting with a new license in my wallet, and a new zing in my step.

Since the transplant I’ve aged more slowly.  The women in my family all start to get gray hair in their 50s, which turns white by their 70s.  I’m no exception.  The graying had progressed to the point a friend suggested I color my hair so I would look younger at an upcoming wedding.  “Why not be a knock-out, rather than a Grande Dame?”  But the graying has slowed; no need for Clairol.

My personality changed.  There used to be something chaotic about me; it seemed I was always proverbially chasing my tail.  Since the transplant those rough edges have been beveled.  I can still find myself in stressful situations, but I navigate through them without frenetic nervousness.  I’m calmer and steadier than I’ve ever been in my life.  The transplant has made that difference.

Now I’m one busy woman.  As a historian, I’ve resumed doing research and writing articles.  I also write an online blog for a group of radio stations.  While retired from university teaching, I now teach at the high school and middle school levels.  In addition, I have volunteer projects.

I think and write more clearly since the transplant.  Last January I presented 2 academic papers.  I was nervous, but the moment I stood in front of the audience I commanded the floor.  My work was right on; I was at the top of my game.  And the applause was thunderous.  I had gone from victim to general.

Deadlines used to be a fight to the finish.  Post-transplant, research is finished before the paper is due.  The blog is finished 3 days before I post it.  My lesson plans are finalized 2 days prior to class.  If I’m chairing a meeting, my agendas are always ready prior to the meeting.  It’s good to be this organized.  Stress has melted away.

Why?  Prior to the transplant, Insulin reactions struck without warning.  I could feel fine one moment, be in a coma the next.  I never skipped a meal, or gave myself too much Insulin.  Nevertheless, my universe was a chaotic and potentially deadly place.  No one can live in such a place for a long time and stay calm.

Since the transplant, Insulin reactions are rare and relatively mild.  No more am I a frequent flyer on the ER express.  Certainty has re-entered my life.  It’s good to live in an ordered universe again.

Prior to the transplantation I thought my days were numbered, and I was approaching that number.  Now there’s time for my career, time to contribute to society, time to enjoy my family—husband, parents, brother, children and granddaughters.  There’s time to live.  And that’s the greatest miracle of all.

Diabetes is a 10,000 year-plus killer that guards its secrets well.  Please don’t ever get discouraged.  Fight on, until you discover a cure.  There are so many of us counting on you.  ☐

Printed with permission from Judith Rae-Ross.

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