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Bree Neuroth’s life is like that of many other 20-year-olds—she attends college classes, hangs out with her friends, volunteers through a student organization and eagerly looks forward to the day when she can strike out on her own.
Six years ago, however, Bree experienced health challenges other 14-year-olds could only imagine. For her, the solution was a pancreas transplant at American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison. “This was a life-changing operation for her,” said her mother, Shari.
Bree, who is now a junior at University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 3 years old. As she grew older, it became clear to her parents that she also suffered from another complication of the disease — hypoglycemia unawareness, a rare complication in which her body failed to generate the characteristic symptoms of hypoglycemia that would warn her that her blood sugar levels were becoming low. Hypoglycemia unawareness can result in a seizure, loss of consciousness or brain damage. While Bree was able to manage her disease by regularly monitoring her blood sugar levels and receiving insulin injections, her hypoglycemia unawareness made blood glucose control more difficult and put her at greater risk for severe complications.
“We tested frequently,” says Shari. “She’d always have to check her blood sugar before her volleyball or softball team left for a game. We would try to be as prepared as we could, sending a bag of Skittles with her whenever she was doing something active so she could avoid hypoglycemia.”
In 2017, Bree became the first pediatric patient to undergo an isolated pancreas transplant at American Family Children’s Hospital. The intention was to eliminate her diabetes so she would no longer have to worry about whether her blood sugar was too low. And it worked. She spent just six days in the hospital, then went back to school after her holiday break.
Now, Bree is a psychology major who plans to become an occupational therapist. “My childhood wasn’t always super normal compared to my friends,” she says. “I want to help others and give back because others have helped me.”
She has also found that being a transplant recipient is an excellent icebreaker in college classes. “They ask us to share something interesting about ourselves, and I definitely have a story to tell,” she says.