It’s difficult to track down Bree Neuroth. When the 16-year-old isn’t playing on her school’s volleyball team, she’s attending softball practices and games or strutting her stuff on the school dance team. Her life is a blur of activities — and that’s exactly why her parents decided a pancreas transplant was the right choice for her in 2017.
“This was a life-changing operation for her,” says her mother, Shari.
Bree, who lives in Fennimore, Wisconsin, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was three years old. But, 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 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 always had to check her blood sugar before her team left for a game. We tried to be as prepared as possible, sending a bag of Skittles with her whenever she was doing something active so she could avoid hypoglycemia.”
On December 7, 2017, Bree became the first pediatric patient to undergo an isolated pancreas transplant at American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison. 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. Today, she is a healthy, active teenager who doesn’t have to be concerned about life-threatening instances of hypoglycemia.
“When you’re the parent of a child with Type 1 diabetes, you’re always worrying, always on edge,” says Shari. “Now, I feel like I can sleep at night and not worry about her.”