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Pancreas transplant

Pancreas transplant relieves Stephani of diabetes

Stephani Wilson smiling headshot.

While many high school students were focused on extracurricular activities, dating and attending school events, Stephani Wilson spent much of her teenage years in the hospital.

The Plainfield, IN, woman suffered from chronic pancreatitis—a condition in which her pancreas often became inflamed, causing severe abdominal pain. Her mother frequently received calls from the school nurse informing her that Stephani was throwing up and needed to go home.

“She didn’t have much of a life,” said Stephani’s mom, Toni. “She had friends, but she wasn’t able to do things most young people do.”

Doctors frequently performed endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), a procedure that uses X-ray and a long, flexible, lighted tube, to diagnose and treat Stephani’s stomach issues. After a while, the ERCP simply became a Band-Aid solution, temporarily relieving Stephani’s pain until the next time she developed pancreatitis. It was time, her doctors said, to talk about removing her pancreas.

Stephani, who is now 33, underwent a total pancreatectomy with islet cell transplant in her early 20s. Fortunately, the procedure relieved her years-long problem with pancreatitis. Unfortunately, it caused a whole new problem: Type 1 diabetes. Not only did Stephani now need insulin multiple times a day, but she had extreme difficulties maintaining her blood sugar levels. “My blood sugars were just uncontrollable,” she said. “They affected my moods and made it hard to function.”

In one particularly scary instance, Stephani was driving when she experienced a low blood sugar episode, passed out at the wheel and got into an accident. She suffered a concussion as a result.

In addition to Type 1 diabetes, Stephani also suffered from other problems, such as bowel blockages because she no longer had a pancreas to make enzymes that would allow her to properly digest her food. “She didn’t have pancreatitis anymore,” said Toni, “but it sure led to a whole host of other issues we didn’t know about.”

In the spring of 2022, Toni heard about pancreas transplant and how it was changing the lives of many people who had Type 1 diabetes. She learned the UW Health Transplant Center was one of the few programs in the nation that was performing the transplant. Stephani talked to her doctor, who suggested she pursue more information.

Stephani visited UW Health, underwent the required tests, and was placed on the wait list for a new pancreas. Three and a half months later, she received the gift of life on Sept. 30, 2022.

Now, as she recovers from her surgery, Stephani is excited about the prospect of actually being able to go places again without worrying about her blood sugar. In particular, she’d like to pursue volunteering at an animal shelter. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to me now,” she said. “I never thought I’d have this opportunity.”

She and her mom have already been spreading the word about the miracle of pancreas transplant. Stephani told another woman in her town who also suffers from difficult-to-control diabetes about the program at UW Health, and now she’s on the wait list for a new pancreas. Stephani is happy to help others find the success she has. “I like to say I went from Type 1 to Type None,” she said.