Woman no longer type 1 diabetic after kidney-pancreas transplant

A Las Vegas woman is free of her type 1 diabetes after undergoing a double transplant for her kidney and pancreas.

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CLEVELAND – For Alana Burns, 44, type 1 diabetes was part of her daily routine.

The Las Vegas resident was accustomed to frequent self-administered blood tests and a constant use of an insulin pump attached to her right side.

However, in the fall of 2018, her condition worsened, and her physicians began discussing the need for dialysis or a transplant.

By chance, Burns had a meeting with Charles Modlin, M.D., a Cleveland Clinic urologist and kidney transplant surgeon.

Modlin told her she might be a good candidate for a kidney transplant and urged her to be quickly evaluated.

“Dr. Modlin was just so reassuring and almost nonchalant – he said, ‘Don’t worry. We can fix you right up’,” said Burns.

She made the trip to Cleveland, and after meeting with doctors, learned she not only met the qualifications for a kidney transplant, but was also a candidate for a pancreas transplant.

A combined transplantation of the kidney and pancreas can be a treatment option for people like Burns whose kidneys are failing due to insulin-dependent diabetes. After the transplant, the donated kidney filters and excretes waste normally. The donated pancreas produces diabetes-controlling insulin.

In March 2019, Burns underwent an eight-hour dual transplant (kidney and pancreas) operation at Cleveland Clinic, performed by Alvin Wee, M.D., and Venkatesh Krishnamurthi, M.D.

“We don’t see as many patients as we used to who need both transplants, due to advancements in insulin treatment,” said Dr. Wee. “But to the candidates of this dual transplant, it can provide a durable and better quality of life.”

With the surgery complete, Burns’s journey as type 1 diabetic came to an end.

“I remember thinking, ‘so this is what someone who has a fully functioning kidney and pancreas feels like’,” said Burns. “I’m not tired, and I don’t have nausea like I used to. I feel like I can really go, go, go.”

Now back in Las Vegas, and free of her insulin pump, Burns has been reintroduced to tastes and experiences she hadn’t experienced in almost four decades.

“I had fruit punch the other day for the first time since I was diagnosed in 1981,” she said. “And my fingertips have healed; no more daily blood testing. It’s like starting a whole new life.”

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