2015 Transplant and Organ Donation Calendar: Thom Nustad

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Pancreas Transplant

Thom Nustad was the 1,500th pancreas transplant patient at UW HealthThom Nustad encountered diabetes later in life. He learned he had diabetes in 1990, when he was declined for an insurance policy.


At the time, he had no symptoms that he was aware of and no idea he had diabetes. For the next 20 years he dealt with trying to manage his diabetes through oral medication and then injected insulin. Even after being on an insulin pump for several years, he was still not able to control the extreme highs and lows of his blood sugar.


In October, 2013, he went to UW Hospital and Clinics for evaluation and was told he was a good candidate for a pancreas transplant. By that time, he was very unstable and had such severe episodes of low blood sugar that he would require an insulin drip. After waiting a few months, Thom received his new pancreas in January 2014, and now he and his family have a lot to celebrate.


Thom and his wife, Lori, hosted a pancreas party complete with pancreas cupcakes to thank those who helped them through the journey. "My transplant occurred in the middle of very cold and snowy winter, and we wanted to thank our friends, family and neighbors who were there for us," says Thom. From prayers, to meals, to snow plowing, to taking care of the house while Thom was in the hospital, Thom and Lori were grateful to many people and wanted to thank them and celebrate with them. "I am so grateful to my family, friends and neighbors, and, of course, my donor," says Thom. "I didn't realize how sick I was until I got better."


Dr. Hans Sollinger and Dr. Jon OdoricoThom's pancreas transplant also marked a milestone for the UW Health Pancreas Transplant Program, when Thom was their 1,500th pancreas transplant patient. The world's second pancreas transplant (Wisconsin's first) was performed at UW Hospital and Clinics in 1982 by Hans Sollinger, MD, PhD, and since, the program has become an international leader in excellence and innovation.


"Our depth of expertise spans from our surgical experience to our understanding of medications and immunosuppression drugs, to our post-operative expertise and ability to manage patients through their recovery," says Jon Odorico, MD, surgical director of pancreas transplant. "Patients with diabetes have varying degrees of symptoms. Some have severe problems or even weekly seizures. For patients like Thom, having hypoglycemic unawareness, or impaired awareness because of low blood sugar can lead to a very low quality of life and even serious dangers including car accidents. Every patient is different and it's our job to weigh the risks of the transplant with the benefits it will provide. Ultimately, this translates into excellent outcomes and a better quality of life for recipients. I'm so proud of this team. We are with our patients from the beginning of their journey, and it's incredibly motivating to help someone regain a life free from insulin."


For Thom, now 67, his transplant brought a new life free from insulin. He no longer suffers from hypoglycemic unawareness, which often posed great health and safety risks. "My wife and I were living on the edge and it was very scary sometimes," says Thom. Now Thom, who is also a proud grandfather, enjoys activities many take for granted, like taking a three-hour car trip to his grandchild's birthday party without having to worry about insulin or packing enough juice or snacks. Thom expresses his profound gratitude for his donor for giving him a second chance at life. "I am here, I am healthy and I am so thankful to be able to watch my family grow," says Thom. His wife and two daughters, Brooke and Dana, joined Thom at another pancreas party, UW Health's Freedom to Live event to help celebrate the program's milestone.