In November, we shared with you part I of Julie Allred’s story. Of the nearly three million Americans living with type 1 diabetes, many of them will be able to successfully control their disease with insulin injections or pumps. But like Julie Allred, some patients will develop brittle type 1 diabetes, a condition in which even insulin injections and pumps cannot fully control the dangerous and often unpredictable swings in blood sugar that can lead to loss of consciousness and coma.
Throughout her life, Julie’s low blood sugar has been a constant source of concern, affecting her moods, relationships, career and ability to think clearly. A type 1 diabetic since age 10, Julie has always had to have someone, whether it be her father, husband or daughter, be on the lookout for the highs and lows of her blood sugar because she could not recognize them herself.
“I could never go anywhere alone,” says Julie. “And, I got to the point where I couldn’t even be in my home alone. Looking back, I realize now that my husband and daughter were always coordinating their schedules so that one of them could make sure that I was ok. It wasn’t just me who had diabetes. My whole family was dealing with it, too.”
But thanks to two islet cell transplants — one in July 2011 and another in February 2012 — 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.
“The transplant has allowed my blood sugar to stay even throughout the day,” says Allred. “I have never felt this way in my life. I have more energy, and I am able to do things without constant worry and without someone always having to watch me.”
As part of a multi-year national research study on the islet cell transplant procedure, Allred is one of just 18 patients who has had the procedure at Emory, the only transplant center offering islet cell transplants in Georgia. Insulin-producing cells (islets) are harvested from an organ donor’s pancreas and inserted into the recipient’s liver. The fragile islets implanted in Julie’s liver serve to take over the job of making insulin, reducing the need for insulin shots, at least temporarily, and helping her body regain the ability to maintain steady, healthy blood sugar levels. Julie has been able to reduce her insulin from 65 units a day received through a 24-hour insulin pump to just a once daily injection of four units at bedtime.
“I’m so lucky to be one of those few people to have that little bit of normalcy for my life and family,” Allred says. “My family and I finally have freedom.”
Julie’s father, who was her primary caregiver, passed away shortly before Julie’s first transplant.
“My dad always said there would be a day when this would happen, that I would feel better,” says Julie. “Though he’s not here to experience it with me, I know he’s watching me and is so happy that he was right.”