South Australia’s First Islet Transplant Gives Back a Life
Margaret Harrigan was the first person in South Australia to receive an islet transplant as a treatment for her type 1 diabetes. Now seven years on from her life-changing procedure, Margaret is living diabetes free, a blessing both herself and her loving husband Kerry could never have imagined.
Margaret was diagnosed with type 1 gestational diabetes when she was in her early twenties and thirty weeks pregnant with her second child. Whilst for many women their gestational diabetes disappears after birth, this was not the case for Margaret. After years of coping well with her condition, she soon began having to inject herself with insulin five times a day before specialists put her on a pump, which mimics the actions of a healthy pancreas by delivering the right dose of insulin into the body.
This worked for a while until Margaret’s body began rejecting the insulin provided through the pump and the usual signs that warned her a hypoglaemic (hypo) episode (when a person’s blood pressure drops too low) was approaching disappeared.
“I couldn’t even go shopping by myself, even if the shop was two, three minutes down the road I wouldn’t go because I could have a hypo from the time I left to the time I got there,” Margaret said.
“Often a hypo would occur at the early hours of the morning and Kerry would have to be aware, wake up and inject me.”
Her husband Kerry said that half the time Margaret wouldn’t even know she had suffered a hypo the night before.
“She would often wake up in the morning and ask if she had one! Meanwhile the night before I had woken up injected her, done all the tests, waited until she recovered, did the tests again and then finally she could roll over and go back to sleep. I would sit up for thirty minutes after to make sure she was okay,” Kerry said.
“We had weeks where she was having two episodes every week, it was getting worse and worse as time went on.”
At this this point Margaret was at a crossroads on what to do next when her endocrinologist Professor David Torpy from the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) heard about the islet transplant procedure and referred her to Renal Specialist Professor Toby Coates.
With support from Kidney, Transplant and Diabetes Research Australia and partner The Hospital Research Foundation, Prof Coates has been able to pursue his research into islet transplantation which involves transplanting islet cells from a donor pancreas and injecting these into a patient like Margaret as a treatment for their severe type 1 diabetes.
“I had my first injection of donor islets in January six years ago and then the second lot six months later,” Margaret said.
“After the second procedure I was still using the pump but only requiring one injection of insulin every day. Then slowly the amount I was injecting became smaller and smaller until I didn’t have to inject anything at all.
“When my specialist said ‘Marg you are no longer a diabetic, I just burst into tears. It was 36 years I was living with diabetes,” she said.
This simple sentence marked the end of decades of diabetes controlling Margaret and Kerry’s life. She’s now returned to the job she loves, teaching, and she and Kerry have since travelled the world together. This is only possible thanks to the incredible advancements of medical research – with your support!
“The first morning I woke up and didn’t have to inject myself was hard for me, I had to remind myself. For so many years it was my daily routine.”
Now a passionate advocate for ongoing research and believing strongly in supporting others who are going through the same experience as her, Margaret is using her story to raising awareness of diabetes and research.
“Every six weeks I come visit Prof Coates and send my records through once a week, anything I can do to help his research. It’s amazing the way medical research is heading.”
It’s thanks to you that research continues to change the lives of Margaret and others like her who are living with chronic diseases.