On April 25th, 2019, my life changed forever. I was given the gift of life with the selfless act from a stranger… a pancreas. Receiving a pancreas, no longer made me a type 1 diabetic.
During my last semester in the BSN program here at St. Ambrose University I was diagnosed as a type 1 while working in the ER with a blood sugar of 1300. Being 23, at that time this new diagnosis threw a huge wrench in my life. At the time I thought I was “healthy” and had my schedule and lifestyle figured out.
I learned to manage my new lifestyle and had the mindset I will not let this run me; I was going to run it. So, I did, I wanted to prove a point that I can live a similar active lifestyle and manage being a type 1 diabetic.
I got married, had a baby and became an adult athlete. I competed in numerous races, ran a half marathon and a few triathlons.
I went from injections to wearing a pump to wearing a device (CGM) including monitoring on my smart phone and smart watch. I was somewhat obsessed with remaining healthy. I did not want to have those chronic diabetic complications, but somethings are also out of my control.
Eventually with all the effort to maintain diabetes, I still became very ill. I had frequent ICU admissions for DKA and was constantly experiencing low blood sugars. After frequent pump adjustments, I eventually I was not recognizing my lows until they were critical, and my numbers were dropping faster than my devices would detect. With this scary situation, I became a candidate for a pancreas transplant.
Shortly after listing on the transplant list with University of Wisconsin, Madison, I received that bittersweet call. I’ll never forget that call at 10:20pm on April 24th, 2019. The moment I heard we have a match, I instantly sobbed. I immediately started mourning and grieving someone who I never will meet and a family that is being torn apart. My husband had to take the phone from me to answer the call centers request. She says YES, he replied.
Once I was able to regain some composure, I spoke with the call center given the advice the patient will go to the OR tomorrow morning then we will call you to head t Madison, WI. April 25th changed many lives that day. I was grieving with the unknowns and celebrating the fact that I was no longer a type 1 diabetic
After the 6 hours surgery the first thing my husband said to me when I woke up was “ honey you’re no longer a type 1, you are a survivor”.
I had a few complications post-op, one being the scariest for me. Two days after transplant I developed clots going into my donor pancreas. At that time, I was told I have a 2% chance of keeping my new pancreas. With those odds the likelihood off keeping my new pancreas was slim.
My heart sank, I came this far, I had a gift, so I told my care team do what you have to do to keep me out of the OR and let me keep this pancreas. The Transplant Team in Madison did everything they could think of. They are truly something special to me as well. I’ve celebrated my 3-year anniversary with that same pancreas. I did not give up and nor did they. I have not had a unit of insulin since that day.
My husband doesn’t fear that I will not wake up due to a low blood sugar. My brain is not 24/7 thinking about lows/highs maintenance, equipment eating. The list goes on. I am able to play with our active son without pausing to correct a low blood sugar or even having pump complication like being ripped out. I coach his soccer team for the past couple years, I’m a den mother for scouts and get to keep up with building a strong example and childhood for my son.
I am an active volunteer with Iowa Donor Network and a huge advocate and everything I can possibly do to show my gratitude for this gift in honor of my donor. Just recently for the first time my family participated in the Transplant Games of America in San Diego. This is an event that includes organ recipients, living donors and most importantly donor families. I was able compete in events that I could dedicate all my emotions and energy to and not worry about blood sugars. This event was beyond amazing and to show the gratitude I have for organ donation and transplantation.
I’ve always received above and beyond care at UW-Madison and to have the opportunity to have a family feeling away from home is always humbling. We live two and half hours away and having the Restoring Hope Transplant House available while I was in the hospital for extended periods was very helpful for my husband. He was able to connect with those in similar situations and a sense of support when it was greatly needed. I enjoy staying in contact with the house and seeing other’s journeys.
I will forever be grateful to my donor and their family for the final selfless act. Not only did this gift change my life but also my entire family. It truly is a ripple effect
Thank you for this opportunity to share my story. Please register your decision!
-Melissa (Davenport, IA)
Pancreas Transplant Recipient