Chris Schuh, 64, considers herself lucky to be alive. The Type 1 diabetes community can consider Schuh, who has enjoyed a decade without insulin injections after undergoing an experimental treatment, a symbol of hope.
In a video posted by the Diabetes Research Institute, Schuh describes how a later-in-life Type 1 diabetes diagnosis soon became a life-or-death struggle. The Tallahassee native was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 30. Schuh’s body became insulin resistant and she had little success in controlling her blood sugar levels, even with a very strict diet. Hypoglycemia unawareness set in, and she could no longer recognize her body’s highs and lows. Schuh stopped traveling and she did not think she would live to see the age of 50.
Then in a doctor’s office she opened up a magazine to an advertisement calling for clinical participants to take part in a islet cell transplant trial. After a long and detailed screening process, she was enrolled.
The infusion took place at the Diabetes Research Institute (DRI) at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Islet cell transplantation is an experimental treatment that is being studied by several research teams in recent years. It replaces depleted insulin-producing islet cells with functional islets. In the DRI study, a transplant recipient with Type 1 is also put on immune-suppressing drugs to keep the body from attacking the new islets.
After the transplant, Schuh says, the change was dramatic and immediate. The insulin-producing cells were effective at their job within the first 24 hours.
“It was incredible,” she says in the video, describing the new sensations she felt in that first week: “Why am I not going low? What is going on? This is, why is this working so quickly? Why am I hungry? I developed an appetite. You didn’t have to eat on schedule. It was all so quick, it was startling.”
She had some complications as a result of the treatment, but she firmly believes that the short-term trouble was worth it. For the past decade, she has lived free of insulin injections, and she remains stable on a low dosage of immunosuppressants. She represents the second patient who has reached the decade milestone from the DRI study; Jill Eastman celebrated a decade without injections in 2015.
Schuch says she enjoys a freedom she never thought she would have again. She now is a master gardener, she travels, and she repairs furniture.
“I enjoy my life,” she says in the video. “I am here today because of the transplant. I would not be here without that.”
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