A national magazine highlighted the story of a former Bristol Township woman who gave birth after a double transplant.
Elizabeth Alexis Carlin was her parents’ quiet little miracle, at least until a national magazine decided to print the Carlin family story in its September issue.
Faith Carlin admits to being a little weary of repeating her story over and over, but she does so because her greatest wish is to offer hope to diabetics.
Diabetes destroyed her kidneys and dimmed her future until a kidney and pancreas transplant pulled her back from the edge. Best of all, the transplant enabled her to have a baby – Elizabeth Alexis, who’s now a happy and healthy 2-year-old.
Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin, doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t properly use what it produces. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body use sugar and other carbohydrates.
In diabetes, excess sugar can end up in the blood, where it can damage the eyes, the kidneys, the heart and other organs.
In Faith’s case, she developed kidney and eye damage. She credits prayer, family support and a medical miracle with her current condition, she said.
Family Circle, a magazine that focuses on home, health and parenting, was interested in doing a story on the pregnancies of women who have had organ transplants. The writer contacted the National Transplant Pregnancy Registry of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, which recommended Faith as a success story.
Faith, a former Bristol Township resident who lives in Horsham, is 41. She works as a kidney transplant coordinator for Aetna Insurance in Blue Bell.
Since her transplant in 1992, she’s no longer diabetic and doctors tell her that her daughter might be spared the disease that plagued Faith from age 15.
“I will have Elizabeth checked at some point to make sure she hasn’t developed the disease, but her future looks good,” Faith said.
Faith was reasonably healthy when she married her first husband, Vincent Taylor, in 1984 when she was 19. A few years after the couple married, her husband was diagnosed with leukemia.
While he underwent treatments, his wife took care of him and worked full time to pay the bills and keep up their health insurance payments. But her husband’s illness was taking its toll and Faith’s health began deteriorating as Vincent’s did.
“I said goodbye to him in 1988. During the time he was ill, I developed kidney failure and I was losing my eyesight [due to diabetes],” she said.
Laser surgery at Wills Eye Hospital restored Faith’s sight, but doctors told her she would have to begin kidney dialysis, in which machines cleanse the blood when the kidneys stop working.
A tour of the St. Mary Medical Center dialysis unit brought a glimmer of hope, she said. Her urologist suggested that Faith might be a good candidate for a kidney and pancreas transplant because she was young and otherwise healthy. Since the pancreas regulates insulin, the transplant could cure her diabetes and give her a functioning kidney.
Tests proved she was a good candidate, so she was placed on the waiting list. Three months later, on July 6, 1992, her hospital pager went off. A kidney and pancreas were available.
The surgery was performed July 7 and went well. Faith woke up to hear her mother singing and learn that the transplanted organs were working. Barring complications from infection or organ rejection, Faith was restored to health.
“I believed that, whatever was in store for me, God would get me through,” she said.
There was much more in store. In July 1998, she met Alexander Carlin through mutual friends. They were married in September. Alex is a licensed practical nurse and an emergency medical technician, so he understands the implications of his wife’s medical history.
“He knows that someday I could have [organ] rejection, that I could again become diabetic, that I could someday be on dialysis. But he told me he’d give me one of his kidneys if we were a match,” Faith said.
Once settled in their Horsham home, the Carlins considered having a family despite the fact that Faith’s doctors had long warned against it. Before considering adoption, she decided to do some research through Jefferson’s transplant registry.
After they talked with Dr. Vincent Armenti, a transplant surgeon and director of the registry, the couple were given the green light to get pregnant.
Armenti, who gathers data on pregnancy outcomes after transplants, said most women with transplants have successful pregnancies. The surgeon’s records show that 31 kidney/pancreas transplant recipients have had a total of 45 pregnancies resulting in 36 live births. Half of the births were by Cesarean sections, and there was a 75 percent rate of premature delivery among all the women.
But even among the premature deliveries, most babies were born late enough in the pregnancy to survive. A normal pregnancy is 40 weeks and most babies of transplant mothers make it to 35 weeks, he said.
“There are concerns. It is a high-risk pregnancy and we advise that they be followed closely, but the majority of the pregnancies are successful,” he said. “Among the babies, there is high survival rate.”
Armenti suggests that transplant patients have counseling before considering pregnancy. If the patient is having rejection problems or poorly functioning organs, she should consult with her physician before becoming pregnant.
Except for constant nausea and fatigue, Faith’s pregnancy went well. She didn’t complain because giving birth was something she never thought she’d be able to do. She works today to encourage organ donations and to boost research that will give diabetics “something better than transplant” to look forward to.
She said that her own moment of triumph over adversity happened at 11:20 a.m. Nov. 13, 2000, when 5-pound, 14-ounce Elizabeth Alexis came into the world.