Patient Stories

AJC Features Emory Transplant Center Patients Freed of Type 1 Diabetes

islet transplant patientThe Emory Transplant Center is one of just a handful of institutions around the world performing islet transplants as a type 1 diabetes treatment. Emory is currently the only islet cell transplant program in Georgia, with 19 patients receiving islet transplants to date.

Islet cell transplant is still in the research phase awaiting Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval so the surgery will no longer be experimental. Read a story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution featuring two Emory patients who have been diabetes free for a decade now thanks to islet transplant at Emory.

Learn About Islet Transplants

What Are Islets?
Islets are insulin-producing cell clusters found in the pancreas, which is a six- to ten-inch organ that lies behind the stomach. Each islet cluster is about the size of a grain of salt and contains a few thousand cells. A healthy pancreas has approximately a million islet clusters.
Glucose is the fuel that provides energy to cells. Insulin allows glucose from the bloodstream to enter cells. Without insulin, cells are deprived of fuel, and they begin to starve. As the cells starve, the level of glucose in the bloodstream rises to dangerous levels.
In type 1 diabetes, islets in the pancreas are destroyed by the body’s immune system. Without islets, the body cannot produce insulin. People with type 1 diabetes require several injections of insulin each day. They must follow a strict diet and monitor their blood glucose carefully. Sometimes, even the most diligent patients cannot completely control their blood sugar levels. Diabetes that is very difficult to control is called brittle diabetes.

Why Islet Transplantation?
Islet transplantation can restore insulin production by replacing the islets that have been destroyed. When insulin production is restored, blood glucose levels stabilize, and the health risks associated with low and high blood sugars are greatly reduced.

What Is an Islet Transplant?
The islet cell transplant process begins when islets for transplantation from a donated pancreas become available. During the islet transplantation procedure, the islets are infused into a blood vessel that leads to the liver. The islets from the pancreas are also separated from other cells through a highly complex process called “islet isolation.” The islets are then infused and lodged into the liver of the recipient, where they are able to detect the level of glucose in the blood and produce the correct amount of insulin. Recent advances in islet isolation have resulted in sustained insulin independence in people with type 1 diabetes, which may make islet transplantation more common in the foreseeable future.

Complete Stranger Gives the Gift of Life to a Georgia Police Officer

It all started with a Facebook post…Raleigh Callaway, a veteran Georgia police officer and patient of the Emory Transplant Center, needed a kidney transplant. Desperate to find a match as he entered the late stages of renal failure, he and his family turned to social media to find a potential donor.

The Callaways’ posted a message on Facebook sharing Raleigh’s need for a kidney and a donor. The post resulted in more than 900 people contacting the Emory Transplant Center – one of whom was Chris Carroll, a health care consultant and grandfather from McKinney, Texas. He saw the post and suddenly felt compelled to give.

After going through extensive testing to see if Chris would be a match for Raleigh, the kidney transplant surgery was performed Thursday, September 25, 2014. Emory doctors said that Raleigh and donor Chris both did “incredibly well” following the operation. Chris was discharged from Emory University Hospital on Saturday, and Callaway is expected to be discharged from the hospital on Monday.

Chris was among hundreds who contacted Emory wanting to help. Dr. Nicole Turgeon, Emory transplant surgeon who performed the operation, credits the power of social media for not just saving Raleigh Callaway’s life, but potentially many more. Of the hundreds who contacted Emory, more than 125 people are still being considered for transplant surgeries to other patients. This generous act will continue to give to other patients.

Check out the video below to learn more about this incredible story!

Happy Update – Worth the Wait

Just a few weeks ago, we told you about 23-year-old college student Kayla, who was in desperate need of a heart and kidney transplant. After weeks waiting in the hospital on the transplant list, Kayla received the ultimate gift — new heart and kidney. Learn more about Kayla’s happy ending – and plans for her new beginning — by watching this FOX 5 news segment.

Atlanta News, Weather, Traffic, and Sports | FOX 5

Kayla’s Wait

For the more than 100,000 people in the United States on the list waiting for an organ transplant, life is a waiting game. Unfortunately, it’s a game Kayla is playing for the second time.

The 23-year-old college student received her first heart transplant when she was just a baby, and although her donor heart has far outlasted predictions, Kayla now needs a new heart and also a kidney.

Watch this Fox 5 news segment to learn more about Kayla’s story.

Atlanta News, Weather, Traffic, and Sports | FOX 5

Related Resources:

Emory Transplant Center
The Gift of Organ Donation
Takeaways from Dr. Turgeon’s “Kidney Swaps and Emory’s Paired Donor Exchange Program” Live Chat

Catching Up with Kidney Transplant Recipient Ken Sutha

Sutha1As we continue to celebrate National Donate Life Month, we love to get and give updates on some of our patients. When we last told you about kidney transplant recipient Ken Sutha, he had just won three medals – two gold and one silver – at the 2010 National Kidney Foundation (NKF) U.S. Transplant Games. Sutha, who received a donor kidney from his father, competed in the 100-yard medley, 50-yard butterfly, 100-yard backstroke, and 500-yard freestyle events. Ken also has completed in triathlons.

Ken’s success goes well beyond athletics, though. After his transplant, Ken received a four-year academic scholarship from the Georgia Transplant Foundation, which helped support his education through graduate and medical school. After graduating from Emory University School of Medicine last summer, he moved to Seattle where he has been in training as a pediatrician at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington. While enjoying life in the Pacific Northwest, he’s been caring for many different kinds of kids, including some who are awaiting transplants or who already have had transplant.

“I’ve been getting involved in transplant and donation awareness organizations out here, but I do miss everyone back at the Georgia Transplant Foundation and the Emory Transplant Center,” says Sutha. “Before my transplant, I would have never imagined the direction my life could take. I am so grateful to the transplant community for giving me the opportunity to succeed in many different aspects of my life!

Related Resources:

From Kidney Transplant to Gold Medal

The Gift of Organ Donation – April is Donate Life Month

donate-lifeFor many, April signifies the start of spring with the first signs of sunnier days, bluer skies and growing flowers. But for transplant patients, their families and donors, April symbolizes another kind of rebirth – the journey of organ transplantation and the generous gifts of organ donors.

Started in 2003 and celebrated every April, National Donate Life Month aims to highlight the growing need for organ and tissue donations and provide a positive reminder for people to sign up to become donors. As we celebrate Donate Life Month, we’d like to take a look back at some of our amazing stories of donation and transplantation. None of these stories would have been possible without organ donation:

If you’re interested in registering to become a donor, it’s simple. Just visit http://donatelife.net/register-now/.

Related Resources:

Emory Transplant Center

10 Years and Still Diabetes Free – Islet Cell Transplant Patients Celebrate Anniversary of Life-Changing Procedure

islet-trans-patients“I feel free. I feel normal.” That’s what Emory Transplant Center patient Laura Cochran says of her life since having a pancreatic islet cell transplant to treat her brittle Type 1 diabetes.

Last week, Cochran, along with the Emory Transplant Center team and fellow patient Rob Allen, gathered to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their participation in a clinical trial for their severe Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas ceases to produce insulin, a hormone that allows people to get energy from food. Type 1 diabetics must take insulin every day to live.

Both Cochran and Allen were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as young adults. Allen’s diabetes was controlled with insulin injections for about 10 years until his episodes of low blood sugar became more frequent and more severe. As for Cochran, as her diabetes progressed, she developed hypoglycemia unawareness, where her blood sugar would drop so low so quickly, that she didn’t recognize how low her sugars were. She often became dazed during these episodes and had to be watched at all times. While both benefitted some from insulin pumps, they still needed more relief. Fortunately, they were candidates for a clinical trial at Emory where donor pancreatic islet cells were transplanted to restore insulin production in people with Type 1 diabetes.

Cochran and Allen each received two islet cell transplants from two different organ donors, several months apart. After the first transplant, they both still needed small amounts of insulin injections. After the second transplant, neither Cochran nor Allen needed insulin injections. Both have been insulin free since 2004.

“We transplanted just two teaspoons of islet cells into these patients 10 years ago, and they no longer need insulin injections,” says Christian Larsen, MD, DPhil, professor of surgery in the Division of Transplantation at Emory, and dean of Emory University School of Medicine. “This has been a miraculous transformation.”

Researchers are awaiting FDA approval of islet cell transplants so that the surgery will no longer be experimental. Once approval is obtained, surgeons can perform these transplants on patients who meet the criteria.

“The best part about the islet cell transplants is not having to worry daily about my blood glucose levels getting out of control,” says Allen. “It has been an amazing thing.”

Related Resources

Emory Islet Transplant Program
Islet Transplant For Type 1 Diabetes? Julie Allred’s Story

Mother Daughter Team Kicks Off Six-Way Kidney Swap

kidney-swapWhen Mother’s Day rolls around this year, Cindy Skrine and her daughter, also named Cindy, will have a lot to celebrate. Having lived with kidney disease for many years, the elder Cindy needed a kidney transplant. Her daughter was tested as a donor, but ultimately was not a match for her mother. She was, however, a match for someone in California. With the help of Emory’s Kidney Paired Donor Exchange program, thus began a six-way kidney swap that stretched from Georgia to California to Tennessee and then back to Georgia.

“Emory began its Kidney Paired Donor Exchange Program in 2010, and we have been participating in the National Kidney Registry since 2012,” says Nicole Turgeon, MD, associate professor of surgery, Emory University School of Medicine and surgical director of the Paired Donor Exchange Program. “Paired donor exchange gives patients an opportunity to receive a living donor kidney transplant from a loved one or friend, despite incompatible blood types and positive crossmatches. In paired donation, a donor and recipient are matched with another incompatible donor and recipient pair, and the kidneys are exchanged between the pairs.

According to Dr. Turgeon, there are currently more than 100,000 people on the kidney transplant waiting list. The discrepancy between the number of organs available and the number of people on the waiting list continues to grow. The Emory Transplant Center is the state’s largest transplant center performing the highest volume of kidney transplants in Georgia.

To learn more about the Skrine’s story, check out the video below:

Visit the Emory Kidney Transplant Program website for more information on the Emory Paired Donor Exchange program.

Celebrating the Gift of Life in the New Year

Donate Life New Year's FloatWhile many people were recovering from New Year’s Eve parties and setting their resolutions for 2014, Emory transplant recipients Amy Tippins and Julie Allred were celebrating life on a much grander scale on New Year’s Day.

Tippins and Allred were two of 30 transplant recipients nationwide who rode on the Donate Life float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., which preceded the Rose Bowl. The float, which featured illuminating lanterns, was called “Light Up the World,” and sought to bring awareness to organ and tissue donation.

Tippins received a liver transplant in 1993 at Emory University Hospital after being diagnosed as a teenager with hepatic adenoma, a rare benign tumor of the liver. In the 20 years since her transplant, Tippins has gone on to graduate high school, college, own her own company and volunteer with the Georgia Transplant Foundation.

Julie Allred on the Donate Life Float

Julie Allred on the Rose Parade Donate Life Float

Allred, a type 1 diabetic since age 10, got her first insulin pump in 1992. Despite her efforts to carefully watch her diet and test regularly, she continued to suffer the effects of severe hypoglycemia. But thanks to two islet cell transplants at the hands of Emory transplant surgeon Dr. Nicole Turgeon and interventional radiologist Dr. Kevin Kim, Julie has experienced relief in ways she never knew possible. Soon after the first islet transplant, the episodes of life-threatening low blood sugar levels stopped for Allred, helping her get back to the things she enjoys.

Dr. Turgeon joined Allred and Tippins on the Donate Life float, which also was decorated with floragraph portraits of deceased organ donors.

“The Rose Parade float is just one of the many ways we can raise awareness of the importance, need and life-saving capabilities of organ donation,” says Turgeon. “I was thrilled to be able to both honor our donors and celebrate life with our recipients.”

Emory Transplant Center’s Donor Wall Debuts 21 More Names

Transplant Donor WallThe Emory Transplan Center’s living donor wall, spanning one entire wall in the Outpatient Transplant Clinic’s (OTC) reception area, includes 21 additional names as of Nov. 26. As we celebrate the holidays, paving the way to a season of giving, it is with joy that we highlight the names of those who have given a part of themselves to a related or unrelated individual — donations of selfless gifts so that others may live and enjoy improved health and wellness.

The wall made its debut in Emory’s OTC in 2007. The new panel is the third installation since the wall’s premiere, with additions also made in 2009 and 2011. Today, the wall displays over 400 living donor names and their relationship to the recipients of their life giving/life enhancing gift, a kidney or portion of one’s liver.

Our living donor wall pays tribute to the individuals named there as tangible depictions of the ultimate gift of love to another.

“You can make a living by what you get, but you can make a life by what you give.” —unknown