At age 50, Jon Hedrich had no intention of slowing down. The fiercely competitive institutional trader worked hard and played hard, taking full advantage of the changing landscape at each of his residences in Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin and Illinois.
While raising their two daughters, Ginny and Carly, now 29 and 25, respectively, Jon and his wife, Merry, treasured the family’s outings. Biking, windsurfing, tennis or skiing consumed much of their leisure time.
All of that came to a screeching halt when, in 1990, Jon began having symptoms associated with diabetes. When he went to the doctor for tests, his suspicions were confirmed. Much to his and his family’s disbelief, Jon was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, a disease they thought only occurred in childhood.
Having run institutional trading block departments for major brokerage firms in the Midwest, Jon soon found himself in the unfamiliar role of retiree, victimized by the complications of diabetes.
Getting to Know the Paramedics
Over the next 15 years, he suffered severe hypoglycemic episodes. The paramedics in each of the towns where he lived knew him well. And unfortunately, Aspen Ski Patrol was perhaps the most acquainted with him after a frightening low blood sugar reaction required a high altitude rescue.
Jon’s family became all too familiar with the paralyzing episodes, which struck without warning, and they dreaded the next time they would have to dial 9-1-1. Jon was scared, too.
“It was like going from being completely sober to completely inebriated in a matter of seconds,” he explained. “Sometimes I would be practically comatose.”
Jon hated seeing the stress it was causing his family, but dealing with the condition was difficult enough.
He adhered to a strict dietary and management regimen, which centered around four daily insulin injections. He no longer drove alone, and was forced to eat early dinners, both of which took a toll on the social freedom he had grown accustomed to for five decades. Though he hated to admit it, his life had drastically changed.
Despite the challenges, Jon never gave up on taking care of himself. He knew that if he did, he would be at higher risk for nerve, kidney or retinal damage. But the disease became more and more difficult to control, and the hypoglycemic reactions increased in severity and frequency.
Ray of Hope
Just when Jon was on the brink of breaking down, a friend and neighbor, Dr. Joseph Ostroski, introduced him to the Diabetes Research Institute. After difficulty adjusting to the disease and spending 12 years monitoring his glucose levels, administering daily insulin injections, and dealing with worsening complications, Jon learned of an experimental procedure called islet transplantation.
Always having been somewhat of a risk taker, Jon sought out more information and decided to put himself on the trial list.
“When I met the compassionate and caring people at the DRI, I was immediately convinced that I should pursue the hope I found there,” he said.
After undergoing a battery of tests and waiting patiently for three years and a matching donor pancreas, Jon received that life-changing call on September 17, 2005. That day was soon called, “the day of the Miracle” by both he and his family, and they felt some relief for his future.
That first infusion of donor islet cells lowered Jon’s insulin requirements by more than 80%. Four months later, he was called back for a second transplant. Since receiving his first transplant, Jon hasn’t suffered one hypoglycemic reaction.
“I no longer feel like I am sitting on a time bomb. A huge psychological and emotional burden has been lifted off of my family and me. We couldn’t be more thankful for the freedom from anxiety the DRI has given us.” Jon happily said. “Now, at 65, I can recapture my good life.”
For Jon, the “good life” begins with a trip from Florida to Colorado with Merry and their 17-year-old golden retriever, and hits its peak skiing carefree on the slopes of Aspen with daughters Ginny and Carly.
Editor's note: Throughout the course of clinical trials, the results and/or status of study participants may vary.
Islet transplant recipient Jon Hedrich of Northbrook, Illinois
“Since my transplant, a huge psychological and emotional burden has been lifted off of my family and me.”
Jon's daughter, Carly Hedrich, artistically expressed the family's hope and gratitude in a collage, aptly titled "Miracle."
This collage along with the other nine in her series -- all of which depict the emotions of a transplant patient and their family -- are displayed at the Diabetes Research Institute.