(CNN) — The e-mail ended with a question that belied the author’s pain: “It’s a small world, isn’t it?”
Michael Schofield read the message from Elizabeth Baptiste again. Baptiste worked at AT&T, just like him. She had three sons, like him. And her youngest, Michael, was the donor who had changed his life.
“It sent shivers down my body, you know, because you don’t expect…”
Schofield’s voice, with its lingering Liverpool accent, trails off.
Schofield, 53, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1982. People who have Type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin, a hormone the body needs to convert sugar and starches into energy. Their white blood cells attack and destroy the cells that produce insulin in the pancreas.
Like most Type 1 diabetics, Schofield learned to control his diabetes with insulin injections and constant monitoring. But he still experienced hypoglycemic attacks when his blood sugar levels got too low. It was like being in a fog — one he couldn’t escape until someone helped him. If it went on too long, he would lose consciousness.
As he got older, Schofield’s body adapted to the extreme lows; so when his blood sugar levels dropped below normal, he didn’t experience the typical symptoms. In other words, he didn’t know he was in danger until he passed out.
“Over time, your body just starts to break down,” he says. “They say (diabetes) is a slow killer, and it is.”
Tiny cells offer hope
Pancreas transplants for patients such as Schofield are not typically an option because they are difficult to perform, said Dr. Michael Rickels, associate professor of medicine at University of Pennsylvania. But an experimental procedure using the pancreas’ islet cells is being tested at medical centers around the country. If it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration, it could make a difference for patients who are no longer able to successfully manage their diabetes.