Pancreas Transplant: Kim's Story

"Ask yourself this: If you or one of your children needed a transplant, would you accept an organ donation? If the answer is yes, and you have not already done so, put yourself on an organ donation list today."
- Patrick, whose wife Kim underwent a successful pancreas transplant operation at UW Hospital and Clinics
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Patrick, of Madison Heights, Michigan, wrote the following article about the need for organ donation after his wife of 30 years, Kim, underwent both kidney and pancreas transplants. The latter procedure occurred at UW Hospital and Clinics.
Pancreas transplant recipient and husbandPictured at left: Kim and Patrick. Since Kim's transplants they have been able to continue long-distance motorcycle touring. They have visited 43 states and three Canadian provinces (so far).
"Throughout most of my life, people who made the decisive play in a big game were often called 'heroes.' After 9/11 most people recognize the real definition of heroism. People who risk their lives and sometimes lose their lives to potentially save the life of another are truly heroes. Those who devote their lives to learn how to do the medical procedures that potentially save lives are heroes.
"My wife Kim has had diabetes for 30 years. The disease has taken a dire toll on her body. Her sight has diminished. Her circulatory system has problems. She has trouble healing wounds on her feet, which eventually led to the amputation of her right leg below the knee.
"Her kidneys failed, putting her on peritoneal dialysis. While dialysis is a life-saving procedure, life on dialysis is very hard. She had to have a dialysis catheter placed into her abdominal cavity. This was connected to a large bag (like an IV bag) containing about a liter of dialysis fluid. This fluid was drained into her abdomen and was held there for several hours while it absorbed some of the toxins that her kidneys would normally have filtered out. The fluid was then drained off and her abdomen was refilled. The only time she was not filled with dialysis fluid was the short time between the drain and refill. This process would take place four times a day, every day, for the rest of her life if she could not get a kidney transplant.
"Her siblings all stepped up to offer themselves for compatibility testing to potentially become a living kidney donor. Many times I have heard discussions about whether someone would do the same. Nearly everyone says that they would do it for their siblings. An abstract discussion of the subject of living organ donation is easy. Actually stepping up and signing on the line is entirely different. You have two kidneys and can live entirely normally on just one, provided nothing happens to the remaining kidney. If you lost that remaining kidney due to injury or disease you become a dialysis patient awaiting a transplant yourself.
"Her sister and youngest brother were eliminated as incompatible. Her remaining older brother Bob was a match. Without hesitation he stepped up for the procedure. He was 48 years old and at that point had never been to a doctor in his adult life. At his first visit to the Cleveland Clinic for transplant evaluation they withdrew 25 vials of blood.
"The evening before the transplant he was not nervous about the procedure. He was not feigning bravery, he was genuinely calm. The next morning as I drove him to the hospital he was relaxed and anxious to do it. I stayed with him until it was time to prepare him. We shook hands and he looked at the orderly and said, 'Let's do it!'
"The procedure went as well as we could have hoped. The kidney was removed from Bob and placed in Kim. When the clamps were removed from the blood vessels and ureter the kidney took off and produced urine immediately.
"It has now been four years and Bob's one remaining kidney continues to work normally. The donated kidney has worked normally since the first day; there have been no complications, no infections or rejection problems. Kim's life was so dramatically improved it is hard to describe. Dialysis is gone forever (hopefully)!
"In the last few years her renal specialist had encouraged Kim to consider pursuing a pancreas transplant. The pancreas produces insulin (among other things). It is the failure of this organ that makes one a diabetic. Without this transplant her kidney was at risk and the other complications of diabetes would continue to do her body further damage.
"In October of 2005 we worked with University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison to get her qualified for a pancreas transplant. She was qualified at this initial visit and placed on the waiting list. A pancreas is not like a kidney; it cannot be obtained from a living donor. Despite this fact we were assured that this would not be a long wait. Six months to one year were the maximum expected time, and less time was likely.
"Many diabetics who would qualify for pancreas transplant are not that motivated to pursue one. They believe that they are doing OK with the blood sugar checks and the insulin injections. The damage that diabetes does is subtle at first but essentially inescapable. Because the many diabetics who would qualify don't pursue the transplant option, more pancreas organs are available than other organs. You won't find anyone who needs a heart, lung, kidney or intestine to be unsure about his or her need.
"We got the call on March 27, 2005 at 1am. An organ had become available and would be flown in from Texas. After a seven-hour drive we arrived in Madison at 9am. The organ arrived at 1pm. It was inspected and declared fit for transplant. After a short 1-½ hour procedure the surgeon came out to talk with us. He said that all had gone well and the organ was already functioning! He told us that the pancreas had come from a 20-year old who had suffered an unfortunate early death and was as good an organ for transplant as they get.
"A family in Texas who had suffered a monumentally huge tragedy had, in their worst moment, agreed to make their loved one's organs available to others. As many as eight people could have had their lives saved or greatly improved by this single act of overwhelming generosity.
"There is a tragic and completely unnecessary dire shortage of transplantable organs in this country. Many people who are waiting for life-saving hearts, lungs, kidneys and intestines die each year because the organs that could have saved them were senselessly buried or cremated.
"Ask yourself this: If you or one of your children needed a transplant, would you accept an organ donation? If the answer is yes, and you have not already done so, put yourself on an organ donation list today. Today is the day for you to become part of the solution to the severe shortage of donatable organs."
Editorial note: In Wisconsin, donors should indicate their intent by signing their driver's license and affixing a donor dot, and making their intentions clear to their friends and family. More information is available at the Donate Life Wisconsin/Donor Registry.
"If perhaps only 10-20 percent of those that are thinking about becoming an organ donor would actually do it, the problem would be largely solved. In many states the process can be done at the DMV or Secretary of State office and will be recorded on your driver's license. An organ donor card can also be downloaded at
"Often after the tragic death of a family member no one knows what his or her wishes regarding organ donation were. Discuss this matter with your family now. None of us knows when we will be in this situation. For some of us it will happen very soon. The shortage of transplantable organs could be solved overnight if only we took the time to have this easy discussion with our families right now.
"So, do you still think a player who won the Super Bowl is a hero? If you or someone you love needs a transplant, you too will understand completely just who some of the actual heroes really are. The doctors and other medical professionals who devote their lives to learning and perfecting the life-saving medical procedures and the organ donors and their families are heroes in the truest sense. Many lives are saved or greatly improved by the generous act of organ donation.
"If in the future someone you love is waiting for an organ and you were not on the donors' list before it happened, you will quickly come to understand the problem. Become a part of the solution before that happens. If all of us who would be willing organ donors put ourselves on the list now, we would end the senseless shortage of transplantable organs today.
"Get on the donors' list! Do it now!"