Pancreas transplant

Pancreas transplant allows Paul to continue running

A man running outdoors.

It took Paul Schill until he was in his 30s to start becoming interested in long-distance running, but once he did, he was like a man obsessed. In 2016, he ran 25 races over the course of the year.

But in 2017, Paul was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and he was having problems. He developed hypoglycemia unawareness, a complication in which the body fails to generate the characteristic symptoms that would warn him that his blood sugar levels were becoming low.

As a result, when Paul tried to run a marathon, he experienced a sudden drop in blood sugar at around the six- or seven-mile mark. And it wasn’t only when he ran—Paul also experienced dangerous blood sugar drops three or four times a night. His wife had to wake him up when his glucose monitor sounded the alarm.

Ultimately, Paul had to stop running. During one race at Milwaukee’s riverfront, he almost collapsed because he couldn’t find a Pepsi fast enough after he realized his blood sugar had dropped.

In 2019, Paul’s doctor asked him if he had ever heard of a pancreas transplant. The procedure, which involves transplanting a deceased donor’s pancreas into a patient with Type 1 diabetes, can cure a person’s diabetes and help them never experience an alarming drop in blood sugar again.

Paul was intrigued, and he and his wife checked their medical insurance and talked to other family members to see what they thought. “We decided this could be what helps me turn the corner,” he said.

After getting on the wait list for a pancreas transplant at the UW Health Transplant Center in Madison in July 2022, Paul received his gift of life in April 2023.

Although he had some complications that required two more surgeries after his initial transplant, Paul ultimately has done well with his new pancreas. He returned to his job as a private aircraft interior installer three months after his procedure, and now he has been lightly running again.

In fact, Paul returned to his love of running in November when he participated in the Turkey Trot five-mile run in Appleton, Wisconsin. “It’s not a competitive race for speed,” he said. “It’s a holiday fun run with family, and I’m running it with my sister-in-law and nephew. If I have to stop once or twice, I’m OK with that.”

His goal is to run a marathon in late 2024. “Having a pancreas transplant has been one of the most important medical decisions of my life,” he said. “Every day, I take time to remind myself that I’m not diabetic anymore. It’s truly a gift, and I’m grateful to be able to tell the story.”