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For Harry Titus, it was a chocolate brownie. For Maria Bau-Coote, it was a Sprite. For others, it was the consistent happier moods. For everyone, it was the freedom to live as they liked. The common link? All of them received a kidney-pancreas transplant at TGH.
Celebrating 15 years of helping people with long-term complications related to Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas transplant program honoured its patients and staff on November 18 with an afternoon of thanks, refreshments, and the film premiere of Freedom to Live. The film is a documentary on becoming free of the effects of diabetes—the fatigue, the seizures, and even losing consciousness.
"Diabetes is an overwhelming disease that can destroy your organs one by one," says Andrea Norgate, Coordinator of the kidney-pancreas program at TGH. "It can cause heart disease, blindness, poor blood circulation, and nerve damage, and result in infections, amputations and a shorter life span." She emphasizes that a pancreas-kidney transplant is the best option for those with Type 1 diabetes, because it can restore kidney function and insulin production, which is far better than dialysis or insulin injections.
"Not enough people are aware of kidney-pancreas transplants as viable treatment options, because results even as late as the 1980s were not that good. Nowadays the results are excellent," says Dr. Jeffrey Schiff, Medical Director of the program.
For TGH patients, there is a 92% chance that the pancreas is working and a 98% chance that the kidney is working one year after transplant. TGH performs 25 to 30 such transplants each year, making it one of the leading centres in North America.
"This treatment changes people's lives," says Dr. Mark Cattral, Surgical Director of the program. "Most of our patients are working and leading productive lives."
That's true for both Harry, 53 and Maria, 41. Harry, who lost his sight from diabetes at 24 and received his transplant in 2002, still works, plays golf and is a martial arts black belt expert. Maria, who received her transplant in 1999, is the Executive Director of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Family Health Team and the town's recently elected Deputy Lord Mayor.
Both thanked their deceased donor families, and spoke about the urgent need for more people to sign their donor cards and talk with their families about their wishes to be organ donors.