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When Neil Burton was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the young age of 11 he had little clue what the disease was or how it would affect the rest of his life.

Now 54 years old, Neil is the first Australian to receive donor islets after a kidney transplant and is ecstatic about the possibility of a future free of daily insulin injections for the first time in over forty years.

A Young Boy’s life Changed

“At the young age of 11 I had never heard of diabetes,” Neil said.

“I was living with my family in a small country town called Cobdogla outside of Barmera in South Australia  and would be getting up five or six times a night to drink water and go to the toilet.

“I didn’t think anything of it; I had no idea what it meant to be diabetic.”

A Kidney Transplant

Over the next four decades Neil struggled to control his diabetes, falling victim to severe hypoglycaemic episodes.

In 2004 he was told a kidney transplant was inevitable and fortunately his brother, who was more than willing to donate a kidney, proved a perfect match. With the support of Professor Toby Coates, Director of Kidney and Islet Transplantation, Neil had a kidney transplant at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

“I’ve been a patient of Professor Coates for over eleven years now. He’s a down to earth wonderful man.”

To assist Neil with the severity of his ‘hypo’ episodes, Professor Coates was eager to push him as a candidate for an islet transplant, the transplantation of isolated islet cells from a donor pancreas as a treatment for Type 1 Diabetes.

Currently only patients like Neil who suffer from extreme cases of ‘hypo’ episodes can qualify for the transplant due to the side effects of anti-rejection drugs. Sadly Neil wasn’t eligible to have a transplant after already having had a kidney transplant.

Ten Years on…

During the middle of 2014 Neil received the life-changing news that the criteria to receive an islet transplant had changed, and he could now be put on the program.

“I had to go through a lot of tests to confirm I was healthy enough to have the procedure,” Neil said.

“It was during my stress test that the doctor picked up something was wrong.”

Despite feeling healthy, Neil had five blockages in the arteries of his heart and he was immediately admitted for quintuple bypass surgery in December.

The Life Changing Phone Call

Put back on the islet transplant list in 2015, Neil was out fishing when he received the all-important phone call from Professor Coates – there were islets available.

“Professor Coates wanted to be the one to tell me, he rang me from Singapore.”

In September Neil had a successful islet transplant performed at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. For the first time in over 40 years he is able to control his ‘hypos’. On the waiting list for a second and final transplant Neil is ecstatic he may soon be free of daily insulin injections.

“It would be unbelievable after 43 years to not have to inject insulin, I do it a minimum of five times a day,” he said.

“I consider myself so lucky to be able to get this far and have the help I have now. This is something I dreamt about when I was a kid.”

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