Pancreas transplant

A pancreas transplant puts an end to Jennifer's frequent ER visits

Jennifer Johnson standing in front of a flower garden

Jennifer Johnson’s type 1 diabetes diagnosis came on perhaps the worst day possible—her 10th birthday. She had complained about not feeling well for months, and on that day, she was throwing up and her eyes had sunk into her head.

Her primary care physician took one look at her and sent her straight to the emergency room. She and her parents later learned that if they had waited one more day to seek treatment, she probably would have died. As Jennifer underwent tests and saw doctors that day, she cried because she just wanted cake for her birthday. Her friend brought her a Butterfinger bar at the hospital, which brought a fresh round of tears because she couldn’t eat it.

As she grew into a teenager, Jennifer’s blood sugar levels never really stabilized. She experienced hypoglycemia unawareness, a condition in which she didn’t experience symptoms of low blood sugar until she was in a dangerous situation. “Every paramedic in town knew my name,” she says. “And I live in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which is not a small city. I would stay up at night and beg God to allow me to wake up in the morning.”

After many years of suffering, Jennifer heard about the pancreas transplant program at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. She was amazed by the idea that an organ transplant could put an end to her frequent emergency room visits. She qualified for the wait list in November 2017, and on March 10, 2018, she received the gift of life with a new pancreas.

Though she experienced complications after her surgery, Jennifer (whose lifelong nickname is “Sugar” because of her condition) was buoyed by a group of three fellow pancreas transplant recipients she met along the way. The four women keep in touch with each other daily through a group text, and Jennifer has made matching shirts for all of them.

As for her health…Jennifer doesn’t need insulin anymore and feels much better than she did earlier in life. “I eat something sweet every single day,” she says now.