Dunfermline mum first to have diabetes 'cured'
A DUNFERMLINE mum who suffered with type 1 diabetes for 32 years reckons she's practically 'cured' after a pioneering transplant of cells from a dead person's pancreas.
Kathleen Duncan (52) had been "absolutely helpless" with the condition - her son once saved her life when he was nine and she suffered a hypoglycaemic attack.
She recalled, "David was only nine when he came into my bedroom at 11am and wondered why I hadn't woken him up for school when he found me unconscious.
"He had to give me Lucozade and Pepsi to get my blood sugar levels up and he saved my life."
Kathleen became so scared her husband or son would return home to find her unconscious that she would never stay in the house on her own.
Even then she had been collapsing in the streets "four or five times a week" and relied on passers-by to call 999 but her life has changed completely thanks to a pioneering transplant programme.
She no longer requires insulin injections or risks losing consciousness due to a hypoglycaemic attack.
Kathleen, of Gladstone Place, said, "I feel just like a normal person now and people keep asking if I'm still diabetic as I haven't taken any insulin for 10 weeks.
"I don't actually know. My husband, Chris, says he no longer has to sleep with one eye open in case I have a hypoglycaemic attack in my sleep, that's how dangerous it was.
"Before this treatment I felt absolutely helpless, as I had no awareness of my blood sugar levels or if I was about to collapse."
She was the first to benefit from the Scottish National Pancreatic Islet Transplant Programme, which was launched in November 2009.
The process involves the complex preparation of islets - parts of the pancreas that contain hormone-producing cells - taken from a dead donor at SNBTS' laboratory in Liberton.
The resulting islet infusions are then injected into patients at the transplant unit at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
This has shown to be an effective treatment for some people with type 1 diabetes who have problems managing their blood sugar.
They can collapse without warning when their blood sugar is low - hypoglycaemic unawareness.
Kathleen, who had transplants in February and April and has also lost more than seven stones in weight, thanked Western General nurse Liz McKay for putting her forward for the treatment.
She said, "My life has totally changed since the transplants.
"I have more control over my diabetes, the confidence to do everyday things and can lead a practically normal life.
"Chris and David are now more relaxed and don't have to worry about me just so much.
"I have my awareness back and no longer have to rely on insulin - I can tell if I am going to collapse and do something about it.
"I feel extremely lucky that matching donors were found and privileged to be the first person to have this treatment."
Cabinet secretary for health, Nicola Sturgeon, met Kathleen and praised the work done by the SNBTS staff and at the ERI.
She said, "In Scotland, around 28,000 people currently have type 1 diabetes, with an estimated 2000 experiencing hypoglycaemic unawareness which can have life-threatening implications.
"This service, funded to assess around 20 patients a year, of whom 10 to 12 would be suitable for islet transplantation, has shown how it has the potential to transform the lives of people with this condition.
"The ideal is to make them no longer dependent on insulin injections.
"Sadly, like all transplant programmes - the main challenge is the shortage of donor organs.
"That's why, during UK Transplant Week, I would repeat my calls for people to sign up to the NHS organ donor register so that more lives can be saved and turned around."
Keith Thompson, national director at SNBTS, said, "Islet cells prepared in our facility have so far been able to help transform the lives of two patients.
"The development of Pancreatic Islet Transplantation is the first of what we hope will be a new generation of cellular therapies for the treatment of patients in Scotland."