News / Health

Double Transplant Can Improve Quality of Life for Diabetics

Combined transplant raises life expectancy of type 1 diabetics with kidney failure

The surgeons sew a piece of small intestine from the transplanted pancreas to Tiffany Buchta's own intestine during her double transplant surgery.
The surgeons sew a piece of small intestine from the transplanted pancreas to Tiffany Buchta's own intestine during her double transplant surgery.

Multimedia

Audio

Diabetes affects more than 220 million people worldwide, with the greatest number of cases in India, China and the United States. It can lead to life-threatening complications, but a double organ transplant can give some diabetics a new lease on life.

It's 5:30 a.m. in an operating room at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Surgeon Jason Wellen points to his patient's open abdominal cavity, and her newly transplanted pancreas.

"Here's the vein where the blood flows out, that we made a connection - you see the sutures right there?"

A light blue surgical sheet covers the rest of the patient's body and blocks the surgeon's view of her face. Her name is Tiffany Buchta. She has type 1 diabetes.

Early diagnosis

Before the surgery, Buchta - an administrator at a local community center - continued to work fulltime even when she was on dialysis.

She was diagnosed at 15. Formerly known as juvenile diabetes, the type 1 form develops when the body's immune system turns on itself, destroying the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. About 10 percent of diabetics have this form of the disease.



The exact cause of type 1 diabetes isn't known, but researchers believe a combination of genetics and environmental factors are to blame.

As a teenager, Buchta was an athlete, playing basketball for her high school. But after her diagnosis, life got a lot more complicated.

"Having a more strict schedule on when you eat, and taking your medicine, and weighing out your foods, and things like that," says Buchta. "It was kind of difficult at the beginning, but you just get used to it."

Unlike type 2 diabetics, who can often control their disease with diet, exercise, and oral medication, people with type 1 diabetes need daily insulin injections to survive. The disease can be particularly tough on the kidneys.

"Probably about three years ago, four years ago, I found out that my kidneys were like 45 percent functioning, and didn't realize that it could happen so quick."

Kidney transplant

That was when she was in her early 30s. By October of last year, Buchta's kidneys had pretty much stopped working. Three times a week, she had to go to a local clinic. There, she spent three and a half hours hooked up to a dialysis machine. It filtered the waste products out of her blood, doing the job her kidneys no longer could.

Then Buchta was offered the possibility of a transplant: not just a new kidney, but a pancreas, too.

"If I was to just give a type 1 diabetic a kidney transplant, over time their diabetes is going to attack that kidney, just like it did their own kidneys," says Dr. Wellen. "So when you offer them a kidney and a pancreas transplant from the same donor, not only do you drastically improve their quality of life - so their sugar's completely normal, no longer need for insulin - but it makes that kidney last longer."

Buchta's transplanted pancreas and kidney are attached to blood vessels in her lower abdomen, leaving her own pancreas and kidneys in place. Her original pancreas still produces digestive enzymes, while her new pancreas makes the insulin she needs.

Her newly transplanted kidney will filter her blood and produce urine.

Hopeful future

With careful control of their blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure, many type 1 diabetics can avoid serious complications. But for those who do develop renal failure, Wellen says a kidney-pancreas transplant can be life-saving.

"If she did not get this transplant, Tiffany would have a 30 percent chance of living five years."

With the pancreas and kidney of her donor - a 23-year-old car crash victim - Buchta is likely to live longer.

"This operation should give her a five year survival hopefully in the 85 percent range," says Wellen. "So you're going from a 30 percent chance of living five years to an 85 percent chance. I mean that's a big difference."

Instead of insulin, Buchta will now need to take medications that suppress her immune system, to keep her body from rejecting her new organs. The drugs will also make her more vulnerable to infections and disease.

But it's all worth it to Buchta. One month after the surgery, she's just happy to be off dialysis.

"I mean I have so much more energy," she says. "And even with, you know, starting back to work, I was kind of scared on how, how much that would wear me out, but it really hasn't."

And as Buchta puts it, it's just nice to have her life back.

You May Like

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis Rally Against Racism

PM Netanyahu says he will meet Damas Pakada, the Ethiopia-born Israeli soldier who was filmed being beaten by two policemen More

Ten Migrants Drown in Mediterranean, 4,800 Rescued

All of those rescued are being ferried to Italian ports, with some arriving on Italy's southernmost island, Lampedusa, and others taken to Sicily and Calabria More

HRW: Saudis Using US Cluster Bombs in Yemen

Human Rights Watch says photographs, video and other evidence have emerged indicating cluster munitions have been used in 'recent weeks' in airstrikes in Houthi stronghold in northern Yemen More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil Wari
X
Henry Ridgwell
May 03, 2015 1:12 AM
Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...
Video

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.
Video

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.
Video

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.
Video

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.
Video

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.
Video

Video 'Woman in Gold' Uses Artwork as Symbol of Cultural Identity

Simon Curtis’ legal drama, "Woman in Gold," is based on the true story of an American Jewish refugee from Austria who fights to reclaim a famous Gustav Klimt painting stolen from her family by the Nazis during World War II. It's a haunting film that speaks to the hearts of millions who have sought to reclaim their past, stripped from them 70 years ago. VOA's Penelope Poulou reports.
Video

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.
Video

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.
Video

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.
Video

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.
Video

Video Taviani Brothers' 'Wondrous Boccaccio' Offers Tales of Love, Humor

The Italian duo of Paolo and Vittorio Taviani have been making movies for half a century: "The Night of the Shooting Stars," "Padre Padrone," "Good Morning, Babylon." Now in their 80s, the brothers have turned to one of the treasures of Italian culture for their latest film. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver reports.
Video

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Challenges Await Aid Organizations on the Ground in Nepal

A major earthquake rocked Nepal on Saturday and killed thousands, injured thousands more and sent countless Nepalese outside to live in makeshift tent villages. The challenges to Nepal are enormous, with some reconstruction estimates at around $5 billion. Aid workers from around the world face challenges getting into Nepal, which likely makes for a difficult recovery. Arash Arabasadi has the story from Washington.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs