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For the first time in 41 years, John McDermott, 56, doesn’t need daily insulin injections for his Type 1 diabetes.
On April 4, McDermott was BWH’s first patient to undergo a pancreatic transplant, a surgery that freed him of insulin injections and the frequent hypoglycemic episodes that made him lose consciousness.
“It’s just amazing,” said McDermott, who looks forward to a lifestyle unhindered by the hypoglycemic episodes that occurred almost daily and very suddenly, causing him to collapse.
During the four-hour surgery, Stefan Tullius, MD, chief of Transplant Surgery, and Sayeed Malek, MD, clinical director of Transplant Surgery, implanted the donor pancreas and attached it to the blood vessels and intestine. Once the healthy pancreas is implanted, it begins producing insulin. The patient’s pancreas is not removed because it continues to perform its exocrine function.
Generally, patients who are candidates for pancreatic transplants have already had a kidney transplant or do so in conjunction with the pancreas transplant. Patients who need the pancreas are those with Type 1 diabetes and diabetic nephropathy.
“Our ability to perform pancreatic transplants enables us to offer better treatment to patients with Type 1 diabetes and secondary complications, including kidney failure,” Tullius said.
There are other treatments for Type 1 diabetes, such as Islet cell transplants and intensive insulin therapy. “The effects of Islet transplant usually are not lasting,” Malek said.
As for McDermott, he was thrilled to get a call from BWH that a pancreas was available. He received the call on a shuttle bus from Children’s Hospital—where he works as a pharmacist—to the parking lot on his way home from work. “I went home and a few hours later, I went to the Brigham for the transplant,” he said.
His wife Chris, a former nurse at Children’s Hospital, said she felt “giddy” when she heard the news, but that her elation was tempered as she thought of the donor family. “It’s overwhelming to think about their gift,” she said. “I feel so much gratitude for the donor and their family, that in their pain they could do something this important for someone else.”
Chris McDermott has always told their two children of the importance of organ donation, even before John had a kidney transplant at BWH two years ago. Chris was the donor. “Of course I would do anything to save him,” she said.
John McDermott was feeling well after the transplant and went home to Dorchester last week. He is thankful for the care he received at BWH.
“With our hospital backgrounds, we have higher expectations of care as patients,” Chris McDermott said. “The care John’s gotten here from doctors, nurses and others was beyond our expectations. Even the parking valet always asked me how we were doing, how the surgery went and said, ‘I’m praying for you guys.’”