Pancreas transplants help diabetes sufferers
A new option for diabetes sufferers to have a pancreas transplant in the US has been promoted in Bermuda.
Jay Graham, an assistant professor and abdominal transplant surgeon at Montefiore Medical Centre in New York, said he was “very excited” about the potential for Bermudian diabetics to be “cured on the operating table”.
Cavin Stovell, 43, who has struggled with type 1 diabetes for nearly 30 years, said the transplant procedure gave him the chance for an improved quality of life.
Mr Stovell, one of the few people in Bermuda to have undergone the procedure, said the operation came with its own problems.
He added: “Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for what it’s done for me.
“I don’t need insulin and I don’t have to worry about the side effects that you get as a type 1 diabetic.”
The pancreas produces insulin to help regulate blood sugar levels, but type 1 diabetics means those affected do not produce the hormone.
Mr Stovell suffered hypoglycaemia or crashes in blood sugar that would cause him to lose consciousness.
He also suffered from problems with his eyesight and coronary disease.
He said the transplant’s effect was “almost instant” and other problems that cleared up included tough, dry feet from poor circulation.
Mr Stovell’s pancreas transplant was performed with a kidney transplant, which is the most common form of the operation.
His donated kidney failed after two weeks and he is now back on the waiting list for another one.
Mr Stovell said he was only approved for the procedure because the diabetes was “at a point where they saw no other choice”.
He added: “I feel very blessed, but You have to weigh the costs and benefits. It’s not for everybody.
“It’s usually for younger people, and it’s a ten-hour surgery. I think I’m the only one in Bermuda to have had it.
“A lot of people think a transplant is a magic surgery, but it’s very important that they realise what it can do and what the challenges are.”
Mr Stovell underwent the life-changing surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston in February.
He explained the aftermath of the transplant was “brutal” and he suffered side effects from anti-rejection medication.
The new pancreas was attached to his small intestine, which affected his digestion and caused pain.
Mr Stovell said: “For the first three months, you’re wishing that you didn’t have it. All these things happen for the first year.”
His immune system has been affected and last week he needed hospital treatment for pneumonia.
Mr Stovell said: “Everything I’ve read suggests that it’s for the first year and then your body starts to regulate itself, although there’s no guarantee.”
His doctor, endocrinologist Annabel Fountain, said that similar transplants were “uncommon due to the rarity of type 1 diabetes and scarcity of cadaveric donors”.
She added: “With a pancreas transplant, the side effects are potentially very significant. With all the additional monitoring and tests, it’s also extremely expensive.”
She said there were “very specific indications” for patients to get the green light.
Dr Graham, a regular visitor to the island, said his relationship with the country went back almost a decade and he was aware of Bermuda’s diabetes problem.
He added: “Recently, I returned to Bermuda to learn from some of the best physicians on the challenges of addressing the growing healthcare problems afflicting this country.”
Dr Graham said that type 1 diabetes appeared to be on the rise.
He added: “Moreover, there is a growing recognition of a group of patients that straddle between type 1 and 2 diabetes, so-called type 1.5 diabetics.
“While there are many options to manage diabetes, an emerging therapy for type 1 and type 1.5 diabetics is pancreas transplantation.”
Dr Graham said the Montefiore team included “highly trained financial co-ordinators who work diligently to obtain authorisation and minimise any out-of-pocket expenses”.
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