Part 1 of 2
By the time John Lawson was 5, he was giving himself insulin injections. At age 6 he was mixing the medicines for his shots. Now John is anxiously waiting to hear from the Transplant Office at Northwest Memorial Hospital in Chicago. He's hoping to get a new pancreas. The 39-year-old father of two was born with Type I juvenile onset diabetes.
His parents were concerned when he continued to sleep most of the time even as he grew out of infancy and his lips were always cracked and dry.
Finally, when he was 1 year old, John was diagnosed with diabetes and his lifelong struggle to maintain a healthy blood sugar level began.
Diabetes is a disorder of carbohydrate metabolism. It's characterized by a high blood sugar resulting from inadequate production or utilization of insulin.
Principal symptoms are excessive thirst, frequent urination, constant hunger, extreme fatigue, sudden weight loss, blurred vision, itching, frequently in the groin area, possible skin problems including slow healing sores or cuts and tingling or numbness in the hands and feet.
The basic cause of the disease is unknown. Beta cells of the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas fail to secrete an adequate supply of insulin. The hormone is essential for the proper metabolism of blood sugar and for maintenance of the proper blood sugar level.
The pancreas is located in the center of the abdomen and lies behind the stomach. It has two primary functions. It secretes enzymes into the small intestine to aid in the digestion of food and nutrients and it regulates the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood by secreting insulin.
Nearly 11 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes. And according to the American Diabetes Association another 6 million people may have the disease and not know it.
Diabetes complications may lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and amputation.
The disorder is considered hereditary. It's not unusual for a family to have more then one member develop the malady. John is grateful that neither his children, John Jr. (BJ) and LeeAnn, nor his sisters, Rebecca Sappington and Shanna Hurley, have shown any symptoms of the disease. His parents, Richard Lawson and Merrillee Armour, do not have diabetes.
John takes four shots a day. But even with taking his insulin and watching his diet, it was hard for him to control his glucose level.
"My blood sugar bounced up and down more than the Harlem Globetrotters," He said.
Over the years John has experienced many of the complications associated with diabetes. He's had eight laser surgeries for diabetic retinopathy, a disorder of the retina of the eye that results in decreased vision.
He continues to have chronic urinary tract and kidney infections. And he still has difficulty maintaining a safe glucose level. According to the American Diabetes Association, the normal blood sugar range is 80-110 mg/dl. John has had a high of 975 and a low of 15.
A railroad conductor for CSX Transportation, John said nearly every aspect of his life has been affected by the disease.
"I just wanted to be normal, like everybody else, when I was a kid. But when you have to measure everything you eat and take four shots of medicine a day you can't be just a regular kid," John said.
"It affected my growth and being 5-feet-5 has definite disadvantages for a man,and there's a lot of discrimination against diabetics in the job market. No one wants to hire you because of the medical costs you may incur and possible high absenteeism. I was a stay-at-home dad for 12 years of our marriage. I've just had the railroad job for four years."
John's quite anxious to receive that call from Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He is starting to show signs that his kidneys are being affected.
The doctors at Northwestern don't think there's any permanent damage yet. If he gets the new pancreas soon it's expected that the kidneys will heal without complication.
But time is of the essence. If not arrested soon, the chronic kidney infections could destroy his kidneys. Then John would also need a kidney transplant as well as a new pancreas.
Tomorrow: New transplant technology may give John the normal life he's always wanted.