Islet cell transplant helps diabetes patient put three decades of complications behind him

December 20, 2018 | by Zen Vuong

Seven City of Hope patients will welcome the New Year atop City of Hope’s 47th Rose Parade float, “Harmony of Hope.” Meet float rider Roger Sparks, a successful entrepreneur who spent more than half his life battling type 1 diabetes.
There is no cure for type 1 diabetes, but on Jan. 1, Sparks will celebrate exactly three years of living without any diabetes-related complications, thanks to leading-edge treatment he received at City of Hope.
“I’m not sure I’m supposed to use the word ‘cure,’ because I am part of a clinical trial, but I feel like the two islet cell transplants I received at City of Hope cured me of diabetes,” said Sparks, a Newport Beach, California, resident.
Islet cell transplantation is an experimental treatment for type 1 diabetes in which groups of cells called isolated islets are taken from a donor’s pancreas and transplanted into another person. Once transplanted, the islets begin to produce insulin to regulate blood-glucose levels. The therapy may eliminate the need for people with diabetes to take insulin.

No more diabetes symptoms

Sparks was only 33 when he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. For decades, he could control his condition with insulin. But in his early 60s, diabetic problems, including passing out due to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), began to interfere with his quality of life and profession as a computer executive with international clients.
“I was seeing the paramedics several times every week because I became unresponsive or had some other serious problem associated with hypoglycemia in recent years,” he said.
That’s when Sparks researched online and discovered City of Hope’s goal to improve the quality of life for people with diabetes through next-generation diabetic therapies – a mission made possible by The Wanek Family Project to Cure Type 1 Diabetes.. He came to City of Hope to see if he qualified for any of its diabetes clinical trials. He did.
His first islet cell transplant took place on Jan. 1, 2016. It allowed him to begin the New Year with a new lease on life. He went from having more than three low blood-sugar episodes a week to zero. After about six months, he had dropped about 50 pounds of what he called insulin-induced weight and felt healthier than he had in a long time. He has not had a low blood-sugar episode since his first transplant.
Sparks, with the support of his City of Hope clinical trial team, made the decision to get another islet cell transplant in June 2016 to see if he could get off of insulin completely. Now he no longer has to take insulin – just immunosuppression drugs. All of his diabetes-related problems have been eliminated.

The therapeutic power of music

Sparks spent much of his life in doctor’s offices and stuck for long periods in infusion chairs, so he’s extremely thankful for his music playlist. Music, especially jazz, helped him through some very dark emotions.
“When you spend so much time at a hospital, it’s inevitable that there will be moments where you feel alone,” Sparks said. “It’s easy to get depressed. Listening to music lifted my spirits and comforted me in some difficult times.”
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