Shown are Dr. Carol Moreau, Annie and husband, Ron Hei.

Transplant leaves diabetic insulin-free

Published 12:00am Tuesday, November 30, 2010

At 12, Dr. Carol Moreau lapsed into a three-day coma brought on by type 1diabetes.

Every day since then, this Gantt Lake resident has fought the disease. She’s taken insulin every single day of her life. She’s had attacks so sudden and severe that, to prevent seizures and another coma, she had to get a trained K-9 “Annie” who could sense when her blood sugar dropped.

But, five months ago, that all changed for the retired high school and college science teacher, marine scientist and scuba diver.

“I had what they call an Islet cell transplant,” Moreau said. “I’m happy to say that that transplant reversed 48 years of insulin dependence. I’m free – finally, free.”

Islet cells are located inside the pancreas and produce insulin, the body’s only glucose-lowering hormone. The procedure works just like any other organ transplant procedure, both in obtaining the needed cells and in choosing the recipient.

Once the cells – which must number upward to 500,000 – are harvested, they are injected into the liver via a portal vein. The liver then takes over and begins functioning like a new pancreas. The islet cells will release insulin as food consumption demands, the same as in a non-diabetic.

Recipients must meet strict guidelines in regards to age, overall physical health, length of time with diabetes, types of therapies used, etc.

“It is very hard to get into the program,” said Moreau, who traveled to Emory Hospital in Atlanta. The program was one Moreau said she knew about for years, but never thought she’d qualify.

Thanks to her healthy lifestyle, she did; however, her first transplant in February didn’t go so well, she said.

“Really, I almost died,” she said. “It was only partially successful and reduced my insulin needs some. They had to cut me down my sternum, and it just wouldn’t heal. It finally closed about three and a half months after surgery.”

Still Moreau wasn’t satisfied with the results, so when the opportunity came for a second transplant – this time in May – she decided to go under the knife again.

“Before the transplant, I was constantly paranoid about everything,” she said. “I had to wear a pump. It had gotten so bad that I couldn’t go and do anything. I felt so bad all the time. I knew there had to be something out there that could make my life better, and I found it.”

So, needless to say, when Moreau’s doctor called, she didn’t hesitate.

“I was actually supposed to speak at the pharmacy about diabetes awareness that day,” she said. “I had told them that if I don’t show up, I got the call. I just had a feeling that was going to be the day.”

In less than 15 minutes, Morerau and husband Ron Hei were out the door for the procedure that would change their lives forever.

Now, Moreau is “free” of the trappings of her disease. The only reminder that remains is her faithful companion “Annie.”

“I could never dream of getting rid of her,” she said. “She is truly a lifesaver.”

Still, Moreau must continue a very strict regimen of immunosuppressant drugs and healthy living, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

She is in the process of penning a memoir “My Sweet Life with Diabetes.”

“Being insulin free after nearly 50 years of this disease was a lifelong dream come true,” she said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t forget to say prayers of thanks and hope that more will benefit from this procedure.

“That’s why I encourage anyone who is insulin-dependent not to give up hope,” she said. “Take the best care of themselves as possible. It pays off in the end.”

Moreau is happy to share her experiences about diabetes, her knowledge of the islet cell procedure or to give moral support those dealing with the disease.

She may be reached by e-mail at isleofmoreau@andycable.com. For more information on the procedure, visit www.citisletstudy.org.

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