Kidney-pancreas transplant

After a 'huge blow,' kidney-pancreas transplant gave Roberto a new life

Roberto Rangel remembers all too well just how difficult it was for his mother to live with Type 2 diabetes and kidney failure. She was on dialysis for 15 years and near the end of her life, she was incredibly weak and tired.

Then, Roberto’s brother had the same issues and received a kidney transplant in 2014.

So when Roberto learned that he, too, suffered from kidney failure and would eventually need a transplant, it was a huge blow.

“That just kind of wrecked my life,” he said. “It was very emotional for me, because I had seen the struggles my mom and brother had.”

Roberto was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes when he was 25 years old, and while he was prescribed metformin (a drug that helps the body’s insulin work better), he acknowledges he didn’t always take it as prescribed. He was very athletic when he was in his 20s and 30s, but by the time he reached his 40s, the disease started to take a toll on him. He experienced a massive migraine in 2016 and in 2017 he saw a kidney specialist because he was retaining fluid in his lower extremities. That’s when he found out he had kidney disease.

Starting in November 2017, Roberto underwent overnight dialysis at his home in Moline, Ill. He got on the wait list for a new kidney at a hospital in Iowa City, Iowa, but while he wanted both a kidney and pancreas, caregivers there told him they couldn’t do a double organ transplant. So, at the suggestion of the Iowa City nurses, he began considering dual listing — having his name on the wait list at more than one hospital.

Roberto’s nurses told him the UW Health Transplant Center in Madison, Wis., frequently performed pancreas/kidney double organ transplants. By Fall 2019, he had visited University Hospital, where the program’s surgeons perform their transplants.

“They’re just wonderful people at UW Health,” he said. “I’ve never seen a hospital as warm and welcoming as this one. They treat you like their family and they really do care about their patients.”

After undergoing all the required tests, Roberto got on the wait list at UW Health for a pancreas/kidney transplant and in February 2020, he received his gift of life. “It’s like I was born again,” he said.

Over the past two years, while the rest of the world has chafed because of COVID-19 restrictions, Roberto is just happy he can finally mow his lawn without stopping to rest in the middle. He has connected via email with his donor’s family and is determined to make the most of his new kidney and pancreas.

“Now that I have a new life, I want to live it to the fullest every day,” he said. “I feel like I’m much stronger now.”