After Transplant, Recipient - And Dogs - In Championship Form
MADISON - Julie Seaton has her life back - a life that almost ended, but now includes an invitation to the exclusive Westminster Kennel Club dog show starting February 12 in New York City.
Seaton, who underwent an experimental islet cell transplant to cure the Type I diabetes she's had since age 14, couldn't drive a car due to unregulated hypoglycemic seizures. A mother of five, Seaton lost the ability to detect when her blood sugar was dropping, causing confusion, shakiness and erratic behavior. She experienced multiple seizures each week, and her family was constantly worried for her safety.
"My husband didn't sleep at night because he was always checking to make sure I wasn't seizing," says Seaton. "I remember waking up one night to find my bedroom filled with paramedics. I had to give up so many things to keep me and my family safe."
Taking care of her family was hard enough, but without the ability to drive, Seaton was forced to give up her promising career in dog breeding and showing.
"I was successful," adds Seaton. "I had buyers contacting me from all over the world, but I couldn't get my dogs to shows, and that's where they earn their points and prove their value. I missed that part of my life so much."
Islet cell transplantation
In 2003, Seaton's doctors told her the frequent hypoglycemic seizures could cause permanent brain damage or death.
Seaton, never one to wait for miracles, found one herself.
"I heard about islet cell transplantation and did my homework," says Seaton. "I was thrilled to learn that the UW Hospital in Madison had an active program."
Islet cells are sugar-sensing cells found in the pancreas that release insulin, the substance that maintains normal sugar levels in the body.
In islet cell transplantation, islet cells are extracted from a donor pancreas through a complex purification process in a sterile environment and then kept alive in a lab dish.
"The islet cells are infused directly into the patient's liver via the portal vein using x-ray guidance," says Dr. Luis Fernandez, co-director of the UW Health Islet Cell Program.
Islet cell transplants are performed on people who either lose the ability to detect low blood sugar or people who have had a kidney transplant and have poor blood sugar awareness.
"This therapy is an important service to the diabetic community," adds Dr. Fernandez. "We work to offer hope and help to more people like Julie."
Overcoming insurance hurdles
Seaton qualified for an islet cell transplant, but because the treatment is still considered an experimental method in curing diabetes, it is not covered by insurance. Faced with the need to raise funds to partially cover the cost of her transplant, Seaton asked herself, 'Who can help me?'
"I went to several charitable organizations, but they all turned me down. Then I remembered all my friends in the dog world."
An e-mail to the non-profit group "Take the Lead," a foundation that provides assistance to people in the dog world with health-related needs, kicked off her fund-raising efforts with a generous donation. Other associates, along with generous dog-lovers she didn't know, developed an online auction site and donated all the goods for the auction.
"I was overwhelmed with their response," adds Seaton. "They saved my life."
In early 2005, Seaton had her first islet cell transplant, followed by a second infusion one month later.
Off to the shows
Now completely off insulin and feeling like a champion herself, Seaton can drive with confidence and travels all over the country with her Australian Terriers. Her top-winning dog, Special-Ch. Temora Bully for You, or "Bully" as he is known, is nationally ranked in the top 20, and took an award of excellence at the Long Beach, California AKC-Invitational Eukanuba. Her newest Special-Ch. Temora Bull's Eye, known as "Sampson," completed his championship in just 7 ½ months.
Seaton will travel to the Chicago International Kennel Club (IKC) for their show February 22-26. Along with showing Ch. Temora Bully for You, she'll work the Take the Lead information booth, as she does at every show.
Bully, the number one Australian Terrier-All Breed for 2006 and number two Australian Terrier-Breed for 2006, will show at the Westminster Kennel Club today in New York but due to a buyer from Denmark who's coming for one of Seaton's puppies, traveled and will show with another handler.
"I'm sorry to miss the Westminster show," says Seaton, "but I'm so happy to feel this good and be able to enjoy my family, my work and my dogs. I'm a lucky lady. Now we'll see how lucky Bully is!"
For further information about the UW Health Islet Transplant Program, visit uwhealth.org/transplant or contact the Islet Transplant Program at (608) 262-7159.
Date Published: 06/06/2007