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Life Isn't Always Sweet for McGann

April 07, 2003|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

Halfway through her final round Sunday in the Office Depot Championship, Michelle McGann did what she usually does during a long day on the golf course. She ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The sandwich did not spark McGann to a miraculous finish, as she ended the three-day event tied for 43rd at nine-over par, but the quick snack helped her end the day as winner once again in her battle against diabetes.

"It's a tough life," said McGann, who has suffered from Type 1 diabetes since she was 13. "I don't think that there's ever been a time when I felt that bad about my health. It's always in the back of your mind that nothing is guaranteed. I know that if I keep a close tab on things as far as keeping your blood sugars under control and doing the other things that you need to do, I knew that the complications in the long run would be a lot less.

"Of course there are days when you feel, 'Why me?', but I think that's normal. Everybody that has a life-threatening disease that there's not a cure for lives day to day. You do the best you can."

For McGann, along with fellow diabetic LPGA golfers such as Kelli Kuehne and Sherri Steinhauer, the tournament was special because of the research on islet cell transplantation for Type 1 diabetes performed by City of Hope, which organized the Amy Alcott-hosted event.

In the procedure, doctors take islet cells -- the cells that produce insulin -- from a donor's pancreas and put them in the recipient's liver. If it works, the new cells will start producing insulin.

City of Hope, which received a check for $1.5 million from Office Depot on Sunday, was recently chosen to be one of 10 federally funded Islet Cell Resource centers in the United States. They are trying to develop synthetic islet cells.

"We spend $2 1/2 million in research a week and as you know, research is a big black hole," said Steve Solton, a City of Hope representative. "But at City of Hope, a lot is coming out of the black hole. We're getting a lot of answers and with the answers that we're getting, we're helping people around the world."

McGann, 33, takes pride in seeing that the money raised by the LPGA tour is working with the recent technological advances in diabetes research.

"I've been through a lot of different things as far as my diabetes goes," McGann said. "I feel fortunate because there are so many breakthroughs now. There's such a bright light at the end of the tunnel as far as seeing a cure."

For the last three years, McGann has used pump therapy. The pump enables her to monitor her blood sugar level at all times and that has helped her control the disease.

"You have such better control over it now," McGann said. "You can't just do that taking shots and I don't care what anybody says, the insulin pump is the next best thing to a cure right now and the easiest way to keep your life normal."

But someday, McGann hopes to be like Ken Bernstein, a long-time diabetic who's insulin free after his third islet transplant three weeks ago.

"I'm kind of a pioneer of the future of all diabetics," said Bernstein, who's one of about 60 people in the U.S. participating in the new islet cell transplant procedure. "We're confident that in the next few years that we'll be able to use this science for people like Michelle McGann so they can get rid of the pump forever."

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