Pancreatic Islet Program

Since 2002, Williams Kherkher has helped dozens of pancreatic islet transplant recipients who otherwise could not have afforded this expensive, life-saving procedure.

Pancreatic islets are clusters of cells in the pancreas which produce insulin, a hormone the body uses to regulate sugar levels. Without enough insulin, the body develops diabetes. Type 1 diabetics are patients whose bodies have destroyed their pancreatic islet cells because of an autoimmune disorder. They are typically forced to use several daily injections of insulin to survive.

With islet transplantation, which is still considered an experimental treatment, islets are taken from the pancreas of brain-dead donors and injected into the recipients. This is much safer than a whole-pancreas transplant.

Whenever donor tissue is found, Williams Kherkher immediately makes available one of its private planes. The firm’s pilots take the donated pancreas from the Baylor College of Medicine and deliver it to the Diabetes Research Institute in Miami, one of only two facilities in the United States capable of extracting the fragile islet cells.

The process takes approximately six hours, after which time our pilots fly back to Houston so that the transplant can take place.

The results are nothing short of remarkable: after the procedure, most patients are able to live insulin-free for several years, many of them for the first time since they were children. Since only patients with severe hypoglycemic complications are accepted into the program, many of them were also unable to drive or sleep through the night prior to the transplant. Although they must take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives, recipients feel that they have been given a second life.

Here is an excerpt of a letter to John Eddie Williams, Jr., from a transplant recipient:

John Eddie, you are a vital part of this dedicated, selfless transplant team, and I am forever grateful to you. My pancreas truly flew ‘first class’ at the hands of your skilled pilots.

I hope you and your family will enjoy the cookies. Having never been able to eat sweets, I can’t guarantee perfect quality – but it was sure fun to lick the spoon!

Sincerest regards,

Judy Gugenheim

This program, including Ms. Gugenheim’s story, was featured in the Houston Chronicle in 2002.

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