February 2, 2017 | by Michael Easterling
Elizabeth Jenkins, M.D., says she decided to become a physician — and specialize in pediatrics — when she was teenager and a patient herself. At the age of 18, she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and her life changed forever.
“I asked my doctor if this would take years off my life, and if I would be able to have a child,” said Jenkins, now 42 and affiliated with Tarzana Pediatrics. “She was encouraging about my treatment for the diabetes, but more reserved about the topic of pregnancy because of the possible complications to babies born to diabetic mothers. I was heartbroken and discouraged.”
As a teen, she admits she had a cavalier attitude about the disease. As she matured, she realized she still had a passion for medicine and healing, and it was time to take her condition more seriously.
“I knew if I was going to become a doctor, I needed to take care of myself,” she said.
She became a pre-med student at UCLA, earning her undergraduate degree in physiological science. She received her medical degree from New York Medical College and completed a residency at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan before returning to her native Southern California.
It was while seeing patients at her practice that she experienced an episode that resulted in a hypoglycemic coma.
During her recovery, her endocrinologist told her about City of Hope’s Islet Cell Transplantation Program, and she applied online. Once accepted into the program, she was under the care of Fouad Kandeel, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Clinical Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism. Kandeel had established the Islet Cell Transplantation Program at City of Hope in 2002, and today it is one of the leading programs in the country both in terms of production and distribution.
Jenkins underwent three islet cell transplants at City of Hope and today is considered diabetes free.
“Type 1 diabetes was my problem and City of Hope was my solution,” she said.
She has now been insulin free since 2009 and no longer has diabetes. “My blood sugar is consistently in the normal range, and I’ve had nondiabetic A1C (blood sugar) levels for the past seven years now.”
While no longer a diabetes patient, her transplant necessitates the taking of immunosuppressants, which are prescribed to prevent islet graft rejection and promote immune tolerance. Seven years diabetes free and still determined to realize her dream of motherhood, Jenkins was referred by her City of Hope care team to Gabriel Danovitch, M.D., who had been successful treating women with kidney transplants during pregnancy.
When Jenkins became pregnant, she remained on the immunosuppressants, but altered her regimen, closely monitored by her doctors. She said getting pregnant in the first place would not have been advisable, perhaps not even possible, without the islet cell transplant at City of Hope.
She and her husband, Dave Hooper, are the now proud parents of daughter Charlie Hooper, aged 7 months. Jenkins is the first full islet transplant recipient in the United States – and only the second woman in the world – to have had a successful pregnancy post-transplant.
“She is as perfect as she can be, and she is mine,” Jenkins said of Charlie.
“Managing diabetes takes a village,” she continued. “Or as we say in the medical community, ‘it takes a care team.’ I am so grateful to City of Hope for being part of my team and becoming part of my village.”