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Diabetic finds life sweet after pancreas transplant

November 29, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

WILLIAMSPORT - Alan Artz II celebrated one year without diabetes on Thanksgiving with a piece of white cake with chocolate icing.

The 21-year-old autistic man - a diabetic since he was 4 years old - underwent a pancreas transplant Nov. 23, 2005, at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville, Va.

"You can't help but say a prayer of Thanksgiving," said his stepmother, Diane Artz. "What happened to him is nothing short of a miracle."

When Alan was diagnosed with diabetes at age 4, his blood sugar level was measured at more than 1,000, said Diane Artz, who also is a nurse. An ideal blood sugar level, which is the concentration of glucose in the blood, is between 80 and 100, according to the Focus to Cure Diabetes Foundation Web site.

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Before his surgery, Alan was injected with insulin four times a day and tested for blood sugar levels with a finger prick 10 to 12 times a day, said his father, Alan "Buck" Artz.

Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas, an organ that moves glucose - the body's main source of energy - from blood into cells. In people with diabetes, the pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn't produce any insulin, according to the Web site.

About four years ago, Alan began writing to his doctors at the University of Maryland Medical Center, pleading with them to find a cure for his diabetes because he was "tired of getting shot."

In one such letter, Alan said he wanted to drink sodas and eat candy bars and donuts. He wrote, "So let us know when I won't be diabetic one day since we're still working on it today let us know real soon ... I need a retire from being a diabetic."

A week after his surgery, Alan bought a Hershey bar and Reese's peanut butter cups. He had his first real birthday cake this year.

"It was like he had the winning lottery ticket," Buck Artz said.

Alan's blood sugar is checked twice a week. He takes 24 pills a day, including 13 anti-rejection pills. He will have to take those pills for the rest of his life.

Alan knows when it's time to take the pills. With diabetes, he could test his own blood sugar, but he couldn't say what the results meant.

"It's easier to manage a bunch of pills than insulin. His blood sugar bounced all around," Buck Artz said. "It's one thing if you're diabetic. It's one thing if you're autistic. But the two of them together is a whole different treatment plan."

In March 2005, the Artzes went to the University of Virginia Medical Center to meet with a transplant team. Four months later, Alan was put on the transplant list.

On Nov. 22, 2005 - two days before Thanksgiving - the Artzes got a call that doctors had a potential donor: A 21-year-old who was killed in a car accident was a potential match.

Buck Artz packed suitcases and hid them. When the match was confirmed, and as the Artzes prepared to leave, an excited Alan's blood sugar level measured 285.

A framed photograph of Alan and the transplant surgeon, Dr. Kenneth Brayman, hangs above Alan's bed.

"I'm grateful for Dr. Kenneth Brayman, who helped cure me. We sent the doctor a Mickey Mouse hat from Florida," Alan said.

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