Pancreas transplant

Jeff feels better than he has in years thanks to pancreas transplant

A man in a shite cap and glasses, smiling and leaning against a stone wall.

While a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis at age 10 changed Jeff Wilson’s life forever, he and his parents were able to keep his blood sugar stable throughout his childhood and teenage years.

But when Jeff’s dad died when Jeff was 25, his whole life got turned upside down. He suffered from anxiety and depression, which caused his blood sugar to plummet and then spike.

Jeff’s blood sugar levels stabilized a bit when he started to use an insulin pump. “He was able to function and go to work,” said his wife, Amy. “But you could tell when things weren’t going great, because he just wasn’t feeling well.”

At the end of 2019, Jeff and Amy were both shocked to learn that his blood sugar fluctuation had wreaked havoc on his kidneys—he had stage four kidney disease. “My regular doctor sent me to see a nephrologist,” Jeff said. “It was an emotional roller coaster. You go from thinking everything is good to hearing that you will eventually need a kidney transplant.”

Jeff was able to manage his kidney disease through diet and medications until February 2023, when he had to start dialysis to flush out his kidneys. In the meantime, he was on the wait list for a kidney and pancreas transplant through the UW Health Transplant Center in Madison for two and a half years.

The challenge in getting matched to the right organ donor was not because of the kidney—it was because of the pancreas. There were many times that staff members at UW Health contacted Jeff with a potential match, only for him to find out that the pancreas was not viable.

“We want the highest quality of organs for our patients,” said Dr. Jon Odorico, surgical director of the UW Health Pancreas Transplant Program and Jeff’s surgeon. “A pancreas can look good prior to the surgical recovery, but after it arrives at our hospital, it is not uncommon for us to see that it is not suitable for transplant for many reasons. We never want to lose an opportunity to transform someone’s life, but our vast experience in organ selection means we’re giving our patients the best opportunity for a good outcome.”

In May 2023, a donor provided a beautiful pancreas and kidney and Jeff received his gifts of life.

“We didn’t think it was actually going to happen, because we had been turned away so many times before,” Amy said.

At the hospital, Jeff appreciated the care he received. “The staff and surgeons and nurses were absolutely amazing,” he said. “Dr. Odorico would sit and explain things until I understood them.”

“Our team wants to make sure that every patient knows exactly how to care for their new organ,” says Dr. Odorico. “Our reward is to see how transformative a pancreas transplant—and in Jeff’s case, a pancreas and kidney transplant—can be.”

While Jeff needed an additional surgery after his transplant because of an infection, he recovered and feels better than he has in years. He now works full time in his job as a materials handler at a manufacturing facility. “I have more energy and strength now than I did prior to the transplant,” he said.

Even though he’s now been without diabetes for more than six months, Amy noted that he still frequently reaches for his insulin pump. “The fact that he has a pancreas that works is quite amazing,” she said.