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For 25 years, Pat Orioles struggled with a disease that seemed tailor-made to thwart him.
The Appleton, Wisconsin, man has always loved food—particularly sweets. When he learned at age 30 that he had Type 1 diabetes, he was in shock.
“I remember just sitting there, crying, thinking this couldn’t be happening to me,” he says. “I was active and healthy.”
That moment began a long journey through oral medications, insulin injections and, eventually, an insulin pump. While Pat exercised regularly, he didn’t always stick to the strict diet required of people who live with Type 1 diabetes. “You really don’t realize when you’re mismanaging the disease,” he says. “It’s insidious. The problems don’t manifest themselves until later in your life, and by then it’s basically destroying your internal organs.”
Pat’s life has definitely been busy. He and his wife Danielle had two young boys (now 17 and 15), and throughout his career as a global buyer, he has traveled around the world and managed large teams for his companies. But he tried his best to keep his disease a secret, maintaining the façade that everything was fine. In 2017, when the physician assistant in his endocrinologist’s office suggested he might benefit from a pancreas transplant, he balked at the idea and was more determined than ever to continue using his insulin pump.
Then, in March 2020, he was on a video call with his team at a new job when a young co-worker mentioned she “used” to have diabetes. After their meeting, she talked with him for hours about how a pancreas transplant helped her reclaim her life. “That conversation changed everything for me,” he said.
His co-worker gave him the name of Nancy Radke, a pancreas transplant coordinator at UW Health in Madison, Wisconsin. Pat connected with Nancy and started the process of testing to determine if he qualified for a transplant. He got on the wait list in April 2021, and it was none too soon—right before that, he had a scary low blood sugar episode on a bike ride in Utah that could have rendered him unconscious.
In the meantime, 47-year-old Charity Casey of New Richmond, Wisconsin, was fighting for her life after a motorcycle crash on April 2. Doctors in LaCrosse were desperately trying to save her, but after a week, they told her mother, Sally, and boyfriend she wouldn’t recover. Charity was registered as an organ donor, so organ donation staff members began the process of matching her organs to people who needed them. Pat was one of those people.
He received the gift of life with a new pancreas on April 14, 2021. “When I woke up,” he says, “even feeling as badly as I did from the surgery, I knew I was healed from my diabetes.”
After a week, he returned home, still hardly able to believe that he didn’t need insulin anymore. He wrote Sally a letter thanking her for Charity’s heroic gift, and the two eventually exchanged phone numbers and started connecting with each other on a regular basis.
Sally and some friends were headed to a Green Bay Packers game in January 2022, so they stopped and met with Pat and Danielle on the way. The meeting went well, and they have continued their relationship. “It’s like I have a new family,” says Sally.
Pat says he feels like he is the healthiest he has been in 13 years. “This is transformative—to go from an insulin-dependent diabetic for 25 years to being healed,” he says. “Now, whenever I meet people who have diabetes, I tell them they have to get a pancreas transplant.”