Type 1 Diabetic Needs Insulin No More
Simultaneous Pancreas & Kidney Transplant Gives Virginia Woman a New Lease on Life
When Pamela Nowell was a child, she would watch her mother boil the glass syringes used to give Pamela the insulin she needed to manage her Type I diabetes. At the time, Pamela knew that her daily dose of insulin and avoiding sugar were the only options available for keeping her healthy – a hard lesson for a child to learn.
Now, at 56 years old, Pamela, a resident of Lynchburg, Virginia, no longer requires insulin or has to keep sugar out of her diet. On July 26, 2013, Pamela received a simultaneous pancreas and kidney (SPK) transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), effectively curing her of her Type I diabetes. She now has more energy than she’s had in years, and says that she feels “reactivated.”
Pamela, a lifelong resident of Virginia, was diagnosed with diabetes at 8 years old. Despite being diagnosed with Type I diabetes at such a young age, Pamela was able to lead a relatively normal life and was very proactive about her health. When the technology for blood sugar and kidney monitoring became available, Pamela utilized every resource to keep her healthy, including regular blood sugar monitoring and visits with a nephrologist. Upon graduating from college, Pamela began her career as a social worker. After many years, however, Pamela’s kidneys stopped working, a common occurrence in patients with Type I diabetes. In November 2012, while still working full-time as a social worker, Pamela began dialysis to help her body fight the affects of her failing kidneys. Even though she was “working in crisis every day,” Pamela sat through three dialysis treatments a week, often working her duties as a social worker around her treatments and vice-versa.
Pamela knew that a transplant was her only option to minimize the time spent on dialysis, so she began researching kidney-pancreas transplant programs across the country. Pamela’s unique need for two organs was complicated by her age. Pamela learned through her research that many institutions will only perform a pancreas transplant for patients who are under the age of 50. The transplant team at UMMC caught her attention with their experience and expert knowledge of the SPK transplant, and Pamela was ecstatic to learn that they did not have the same age restrictions as other institutions with less experience with the procedure. With the full support of her nephrologist, Pamela began working with the transplant coordinators at UMMC and was approved for the transplant wait list. It was a long road to where Pamela is now. While on the wait list, Pamela received 27 calls about possible organ donors – 25 from UMMC and two from her local hospital – before the transplant finally occurred with the best donor match.
Pamela credits the open communication between her doctors at UMMC and in Virginia to her successful recovery following the transplant. Immediately following the transplant, most of Pamela’s follow-up care was done by her nephrologist in Virginia, an enormous convenience while she was recuperating. Now, even with only quarterly appointments at UMMC, she is still “so very impressed” with the communication between her providers. It’s been decided that for general or routine follow-up care, Pamela can see her doctors in Virginia. The less frequent surgical or transplant related care will be provided by her doctors at UMMC.
Pamela continues to stay on top of her health. She will monitor her blood sugar for a year following the transplant and has no plans to indulge in lots of sugary desserts. Pamela feels it is important to take care of her body and respect the gift of organ transplantation, for which she is “eternally grateful.” She is looking forward to the freedom that a life without frequent dialysis treatment provides. She and her husband, Tom, are planning a trip to Boston and Maine to relax and enjoy the seafood that the region is famous for – an embodiment of Pamela’s new lease on life.