Pancreas transplant

Pancreas transplant cures Lisa's diabetes

Woman leaning against a tree and smiling.

Lisa Jonson’s Type 1 diabetes was so disruptive to her life, it literally shocked her into compliance. When her blood sugar was too low, she experienced episodes called “brain zaps”—sensory disturbances that felt like electrical shock sensations in the brain.

She was first diagnosed with diabetes when she was 30 years old. “Your life changes when you get a diabetes diagnosis,” she said. “At the time, I was dealing with three kids and diabetes. I had a couple of low blood sugar episodes when my kids were in my care, so I tried to keep my blood sugar high so I wouldn’t have those issues.”

As a result, Lisa’s diabetes was not very well controlled and she started to experience complications, such as vision problems.

One day, Lisa saw a news story on pancreas transplants as a cure for diabetes. She immediately started searching online and found Nancy Radke, a pancreas transplant nurse coordinator at the UW Health Transplant Center. She contacted Nancy, but the program was on hold at that time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Nancy called her back when it reopened.

After undergoing testing at UW Health, Lisa’s doctors determined she was a good candidate for a pancreas transplant. In the transplant, a pancreas from a deceased donor would provide her with new, insulin-producing cells, which would eliminate the need for insulin shots and balance her blood sugar levels. “I was at a time in my life when I wanted to do this,” Lisa said.

Lisa received her gift of life on Dec. 21, 2022. Though she had a few complications immediately following the surgery, she’s incredibly grateful she underwent the transplant.

“I loved my nurses,” she said. “Everybody was great at UW Health. I was walking and doing well a week after the surgery. The whole experience was part of my journey.”

Since her transplant, Lisa has been able to watch her 2-year-old grandson—a job she wasn’t able to fill when she was so worried about experiencing low blood sugar. She also has started traveling again.

“I wrote to the donor family that I’m going to take this pancreas places, because now I don’t have to worry about taking sugar with me when I’m traveling,” she said. “That was really a tough letter to write, because I can’t imagine the pain they went through.”

Lisa loves seeing her blood sugar levels now because they’re just like everyone else. “I can’t even explain how relieved I am,” she said.