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November 19, 2021

Pancreas transplant to cure diabetes

By Cynthia Weiss

It was in 2017 when 48-year-old Lynn Guzik suffered a massive heart attack out of the blue. An insulin-dependent diabetic for more than 20 years, Lynn struggled to control her diabetes, but she hadn’t had any heart issues before. The damage to her heart was significant, however, and in 2017, Lynn underwent a heart transplant in her then-hometown of Houston, Texas.

Despite her new heart, Lynn, a mother of two, says she could barely function because of the diabetes. “I couldn’t walk 20 feet without being out of breath. I was in such a bad place,” she recalls.

“I was on massive amounts of insulin and still we couldn’t control it,” says Lynn, who was hospitalized often as doctors struggled to try to control her blood glucose levels. “No one could understand why it wasn’t responding.”

At her highest, she says, her blood sugar was 1200.

To be closer to family, Lynn relocated to Jacksonville, Florida, and established care at Mayo Clinic. “I knew of Mayo Clinic and its reputation. I knew I would be receiving fantastic care,” she says.

But when a pancreas transplant was proposed, Lynn was flabbergasted.

“I’d never heard of a pancreas transplant to cure diabetes. I was in shock when they suggested it," she says.

There are approximately 32,000 pancreas transplants are performed annually, says Tambi Jarmi, M.D., a nephrologist and one of the transplant medical directors at Mayo Clinic's campus in Jacksonville, Florida.

A pancreas transplant offers a potential cure for diabetes in that it can restore normal insulin production and improve blood sugar control in people with diabetes.

"Any patient who is on insulin is a candidate for a pancreas transplant," says Dr. Jarmi. He adds that the procedure is "ideal for patients like Lynn, who struggle to manage their diabetes, have multiple hospitalizations and other complications as a result of the condition."

Often, patients with diabetes suffer from kidney failure so a combined pancreas/kidney transplant is also an option for some individuals.

Lynn says she was skeptical when Dr. Jarmi talked to her about a pancreas transplant. "I thought he was crazy when he said I'd no longer be a diabetic."

But by the time she got home after her appointment, Lynn was on board. “I knew the benefits far outweighed the risks," she says.

On November 21, 2020, Lynn received a new pancreas. Though Dr. Jarmi told her that her diabetes was cured, it was only recently, she says, that the news sunk in. “About a month ago I got my first A1C that was 5.4 and I cried. I’d never had an A1C that low. I’m really not a diabetic anymore,” she says, noting she celebrated with a trip to Disney with her daughters.

“Organ donation saved my life twice. I have unending gratitude towards my donors and their families. And I am eternally grateful to Mayo Clinic and my team there.”

Tags: diabetes, Diabetes & Endocrinology, Dr. Tambi Jarmi, insulin, MayoClinicFL, pancreas transplant, Transplant, Transplant

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