On a usual morning commute to work, Richard Gurwitz, 37, was navigating through traffic and thinking about the day ahead when the next thing he knew his car was lodged in an embankment on the side of the road.
Thankfully he wasn’t hurt, though he had no recollection of how he got there.
At other times, he would blindly drive 10 or more miles past his exit off the highway to eventually “come to” and have to backtrack.
As a child, his blood sugar levels would drop so low during the night that he had difficulty waking up, scaring his parents half to death.
These frequent episodes landed him in the hospital with nurses scrambling to administer emergency shots of glucose to bounce up his blood sugar levels.
Severe hypoglycemic unawareness has plagued Richard for most of his 35 years of living with diabetes.
But that was only the first complication to set in after being diagnosed at the age of two.
Threatening His Sight
Retinopathy has threatened his sight to the point where he has undergone a number of laser surgeries in both eyes to stop the blood vessels from hemorrhaging.
And more recently, he’s felt tingling sensations in his fingers and hands, followed by periods of numbness.
“As a kid, I really thought I was invincible,” says Richard. “I wasn’t in good control and didn’t take my illness seriously.”
Desperate to Hang On
The prospect of going blind or losing a limb was devastating and he was desperate to hang on to his life.
Then, four years ago, he read an article about the clinical islet transplantation trials underway at the Diabetes Research Institute.
Wanting to learn more, Richard contacted the DRI’s Clinical Islet Transplant Program and submitted his information as a trial candidate.
In October of 2001, he received the call he was waiting for.
The Call from the DRI
“When I got the call from the DRI, I was so excited. It was so hard to picture my life being different,” he says. “I used to dream that I didn’t have diabetes and I always have to ask myself, ‘Is this real?’”
Richard has been living insulin-free for more then ten months and after making some minor adjustments to his new-found freedom, he feels like he has a new lease on life.
“After I received my islet cell transplant, it was difficult for me to change the routine of managing my diabetes. I was so nervous about my sugar levels that I was constantly testing before I went to bed.
"But over the past few months, I’m realizing that my body is really functioning,” he said. “I am really a different person now. I appreciate things more and my heart feels so full.”
Editor's note: Throughout the course of clinical trials, the results and/or status of study participants may vary.