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Pancreas Transplant Can Improve Quality of Life for Type 1 Diabetes Patients

A pancreas alone or pancreas/kidney transplant can greatly improve quality of life for patients with severe Type 1 diabetes.

"The key is to have them evaluated for a transplant, and get the disease process arrested before they experience end organ damage," says Alexander Maskin, MD, assistant professor of surgery and transplant surgeon at Nebraska Medicine.

"If they receive a pancreas transplant early on, we can prevent or mitigate other complications from occurring such as diabetic retinopathy, neuropathy and nephropathy," he says.

Alex Maskin, MD
Alex Maskin, MD

Patients with difficult-to-manage Type 1 diabetes typically experience frequent swings in blood glucose levels, which can be difficult to control with some insulin regimens. Even worse, they can develop hypoglycemic unawareness in which their glucose levels drop so low that they can become unconscious. "This can be a life-threatening problem that can result in frequent emergency room visits and hospital admissions" says Dr. Maskin.

By the time the kidney pancreas transplant team evaluates them for surgery, many have also suffered severe kidney damage and require both a pancreas and kidney transplant.

The good news is that both pancreas and pancreas/kidney transplants are highly successful and curative. "Patients have better quality of life, don't have to administer daily insulin injections, can eliminate most dietary and activity restrictions and no longer live in fear of having a seizure or episodes of unconsciousness," says Dr. Maskin. "In addition, a functioning pancreas transplant can provide a level of protection for the kidneys and other organs affected by diabetic changes."

The transplants can last 15 to 20 years. At that point, a patient can be reevaluated for a second transplant if needed, Dr. Maskin says. Pancreas transplants are not as frequently performed as kidney transplants so the waiting time is usually just a few months.

Nebraska Medicine's pancreas and kidney/pancreas transplant program is one of the largest and most experienced programs in the Midwest. The program was started in 1989 when pancreas transplantation was still very new. Today, it is among the most active and pioneering programs in the world. Our transplant center became the fifth center in the world to perform more than 200 pancreas-only transplants and consistently ranks within the top five centers for performing adult pancreas transplants.

"We are committed to our patients," says Dr. Maskin. "We follow our patients for life and are actively involved in their care."

To learn more, make a referral or connect with a member of pancreas transplant team call 800-401-4444 or visit us online at nebraskamed.com/transplant.