Rita Hart has lived with diabetes for 37 years. Almost four decades after being diagnosed at the age of 6, the disease started to take its toll, literally wreaking havoc on her body.
Over the years she has suffered with many of the devastating complications, from blinding eye hemorrhages and painful nerve damage to aching tendons and dangerous hypoglycemic reactions, which, she says were extremely frightening.
“During these episodes, I would shake uncontrollably, and it was so difficult for me to think straight,” remembers Rita.
At times she awoke from a deep sleep three to four nights per week, profusely sweating from an insulin reaction.
Unaware of Low Blood Sugars
And worse yet, she was often completely unaware when her blood sugar was plummeting to dangerously low levels, causing her to pass out at work, in the supermarket, in meetings and in countless other places.
As a result, food became her medicine; something she had to have rather than wanted just to keep her glucose levels elevated.
Diabetes has been such a controlling factor in Rita’s life that she was robbed of the chance to be a mother.
“I was really scared that my complications would worsen if I had children. When I was in my 20’s my doctor told me that I could have a normal pregnancy, but because I was so brittle, I would have to spend my last trimester in the hospital.”
Fear of Ongoing Complications
She felt as though her life was disintegrating, as the complications crept into more and more parts of her body. Though numerous laser surgeries stopped her eyes from bleeding, she knew that the ravages of diabetes would never end.
“I always felt that something else was going to sneak right up behind me even though I had done everything right.”
A person of great strength and courage, Rita, who is the deputy director of the Northhampton County, PA, Domestic Relations Section, was terrified for her life.
She was doubtful about her future, or if she would even have one. Gone were the visions of a happy retirement and traveling the world with her husband, Peter. Instead, she saw herself blind and in a wheel chair.
For the first time in almost 40 years, she felt very depressed.
A Spark of Hope
A spark of hope was ignited when Rita learned about the Diabetes Research Institute’s islet cell transplantation trials.
After contacting the DRI’s Clinical Transplant Center, she started the detailed screening process and was accepted into the trial. Then the wait for a matching organ began.
On July 20, 2001 her beeper went off.
“When I got the call that they were ready for me, I couldn’t get to the airport fast enough,” she remembers. “Before I knew it, I was in the radiology suite. It was such an emotional experience for me and I was really overwhelmed.”
Through tears she recalls, “I saw Dr. Ricordi and Dr. Alejandro walking through the doors holding an IV bag, and then someone said to me, ‘Here come your new cells.”’
In an instant, everything was hooked up and she saw the insulin-producing red dots floating down the catheter.
“After living with diabetes for 37 years, it was so strange – and scary – to not have to inject any insulin in those first 24 hours,” she said.
Rita never fully realized, until now, what little independence she actually had. Now, she no longer needs to pack a snack when she leaves the house or worry that an impromptu social outing will alter her normal routine. The hypoglycemic reactions that would knock her unconscious are also gone. But most of all, she can see a bright future quite clearly.
“The DRI has given me back my life. I am so grateful for the opportunity to be given a second chance and a freedom and a future I never, ever dreamed was possible.”
Editor's note: Throughout the course of clinical trials, the results and/or status of study participants may vary.