July 31, 2013 Edition

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Transplant transforms
Matthew Cole's life

Matthew Cole struggled with diabetes most of his life until a pancreas and kidney transplant eight months ago. After years of trying to manage a constantly fluctuating blood sugar level, Cole now has a new lease on life and hasn't needed a single insulin injection since the surgery.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

Matthew Cole of Paragould was diagnosed with diabetes at age five. He had taken multiple shots a day and struggled with high blood sugar for 23 years until a surgery about eight months ago changed all of that.

His family moved to Walnut Ridge right before he was diagnosed. He graduated from Walnut Ridge High School in 2003.

Andrea Davis of Walnut Ridge, Cole's sister, said, "As a young child, I remember him having seizures due to his blood sugar dropping and mom made sure we all knew what to do because you never knew when they would occur."

Cole continued to struggle with his blood sugar, but it became much worse about two and a half years ago.

Davis is also Cole's nurse at St. Bernards Clopton Clinic and she said, "His blood pressure became uncontrollable, he had vision loss and soon after came kidney failure, which could only be controlled with dialysis."

Poor health and frequent hospital visits caused him to leave school at Black River Technical College.

Prior to the surgery, Cole spent most of his time in bed while his mother, Cynthia Milburn of Paragould, took care of him.

"I told her I was scared I wouldn't make it," he said.

"I cried for two days after that," Milburn said. "He told me he knew he was going to die, he didn't know how he knew, he just knew." Milburn said this marked the turning point, and they all knew something had to be done.

After a severe hyperglycemic attack, Cole was briefly hospitalized. While there, his doctor asked if he had ever considered a transplant for his kidney and pancreas.

"We didn't really know that it was an option," Cole said. He talked with his family that night and decided it was what they needed to do.

Before he could be added to the recipient list, Cole had to through many screenings. Once on the list, it took three months, and two calls that didn't work out, before he received a call saying a match had been found.

That night he went to Methodist University Hospital in Memphis and was checked in. He received the surgery the following morning at 7.

"I don't know anything about the donor," he said. "I know that they were 35, but I don't know if it was a man or woman, nothing really."

"I did write a thank you letter and a poem, but I haven't sent it yet."

Cole has been recovering nicely from his surgery. Now he is doing things he never expected to be able to do. Recently, he attended a wedding where he played with some children.

"I think people were more interested in watching me run around than they were in the wedding," he said.

Over all, the transplant went better than Cole could have expected. "My body didn't try fighting it or rejecting it, it just took."

Davis said, "I could have never imagined the life my brother has been given. He looks and feels better than he ever has. Words cannot explain how wonderful it is to have my brother back."

"Watching him carry out the trash or get into his car and go to work, just the littlest things and they make me praise God," Milburn said.

Cole said one of the hardest things was to adjust to a normal blood sugar level after living with high blood sugar most of his life.

"I stayed kind of weak for a while, but I never had any real problems," he said.

Cole has recently been asked to work with a proposed Kidney Walk to Work program, and he has been working with others who suffer from diabetes.

He is also interested in organizing educational programs for children with diabetes. Many of Cole's family members also have diabetes and several were diagnosed at a young age.

"When you're a kid and don't understand, it's pretty tough."

Cole said that when he was younger, he and his mother participated in a walk to cure diabetes but currently there are none close by. He is now working with the American Diabetes Association to organize a walk to cure diabetes in Jonesboro.

Cole currently lives in an apartment on his mom's property in Paragould. He started working at Zaxby's five months after the surgery. He said it's not much, but it's a fresh start and he is grateful for the opportunity. Cole hopes to start back at BRTC soon to earn a degree in phlebotomy.

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