What can I expect after my pancreas transplant?

After the Operation

After your pancreas transplant, you will be in either a private room in the Solid Organ Transplant Unit or in the Intensive Care Unit for recovery. Your new pancreas should begin working soon after surgery. However, it may be necessary to continue the use of insulin, as in an insulin (intravenous) drip, until blood sugars are in an acceptable range.

After your pancreas transplant, the transplant coordinator and doctors will discuss with you:

  • How to take your medications
  • Warning signs to look out for
  • How to read your blood tests and identify any problems
  • When to call the Transplant Office

Potential Complications

All surgeries have potential complications and pancreas transplantation is no different. As a transplant patient, you need to be aware of the possibility of rejection and infection.

Rejection occurs when the body fights the donor's pancreas. This happens because the new pancreas is foreign tissue. Rejection is the most common reason for transplant failure. There are three types of rejection:

  • Hyper-Acute Rejection - This type is very rare, but it can occur minutes or hours after surgery and is not treatable. If it occurs, the pancreas must be removed and insulin must be resumed until another pancreas becomes available.
  • Acute Rejection - This can occur at anytime, but is most common in the first year after transplant. This type of rejection is usually reversible with anti-rejection medications.
  • Chronic Rejection - This occurs slowly and over a long period of time. There is usually no treatment. The pancreas function may decrease to the point that insulin is required. If this occurs, you may decide to try another transplant.

Immunosuppressive (Anti-rejection) Medications

Both before and after your pancreas transplant operation, you will be given immunosuppressive (anti-rejection) medications. These are strong medications to help prevent organ rejection and must be taken as long as you have the transplanted pancreas.

To determine a safe level of these drugs, your blood will be tested and the medication levels will be watched very closely by the transplant team. It is very common for the transplant team to make frequent changes in medication doses after transplant to keep the anti-rejection medications in a safe range, yet prevent rejection.

The medications to protect you from rejection also lower your immune system and put you at increased risk for infection. The risk of infection is the greatest right after transplant or after treatment for rejection. Some of the infection complications you may experience immediately after transplant may be a reactivation of viral infections that you had as a child. You will be given more information about potential complications during your transplant evaluation and post-transplant education.