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Shan Wolff, 47, has lived with brittle Type I diabetes for more than half of his life. Since he was diagnosed at 23, he has had to monitor his blood sugar levels, which can fluctuate from high to very low despite aggressive management. He constantly lived with the fear of an undetected severe drop in his blood sugar - which could happen at any time and possibly have disastrous results. The worry, combined with the effects of the blood sugar fluctuations, was taking a physical toll, leaving him exhausted.
Wolff doesn't worry about these issues as much these days. In November 2005, he became one of the first North Texans to undergo an islet cell transplant at Baylor. This experimental procedure takes cells from the pancreas of an organ donor and injects them through a catheter into the liver where they help produce insulin. This procedure is available to appropriate patients who, like Wolff, have brittle Type I diabetes and have few other health problems. While it is not a cure for diabetes, the procedure could be a way to better control the disease by better regulating blood sugar levels and possibly preventing some of the long-term complications of diabetes.
Through his work as a Donation Clinical Specialist for Life Gift Organ Donation Center, Wolff had become aware of the research being done on the islet cell transplant procedure several years ago. It wasn't until talking with physicians at Baylor that he decided the experimental procedure was right for him. After an extensive work up, including lab tests, he was placed on the national waiting list for a transplant.
The night in November, 2005 he received the call telling him a donor pancreas with viable cells was being sent from Miami was the moment he says he realized the potential impact of the procedure. "Although bittersweet, I realized in the midst of despair, a family's generosity might give me a chance at a much different life," he said.
The transplant was performed the next day in the Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas Interventional Radiology department and he was discharged within 48 hours. Now, almost a year later, Wolff uses only half the amount of insulin he needed prior to the transplant and no longer has blood sugar fluctuations as before. He will remain on anti-rejection medications for the rest of his life and receives medical check ups once a month. He will receive a second islet cell transplant later this year that he hopes will even further tighten the control of his diabetes.
The islet cell transplant at Baylor has helped Wolff feel better both mentally and physically. The fear of frequent hypoglycemic events no longer limits him from doing the things he wants in life such as play tennis or take his son camping. "Before the transplant, I lived with the constant threat of low blood sugars and physically felt much older than my years," he said. "I am grateful to the physicians and staff at Baylor and especially to the family whose decision has changed my life."
Physicians are members of the medical staff at one of the Baylor Health Care System's subsidiary, community or affiliated medical centers and are neither employees nor agents of those medical centers, Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas or Baylor Health Care System.
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