Pancreas Transplant Patient Guide
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a Pancreas Transplant my only option?
Unlike heart, liver and lung transplants, pancreas transplants are not necessarily performed to save a life, but to improve the quality of life. A pancreas transplant is an alternative to treatments such as insulin and dialysis. Even though a pancreas transplant may seem like a quick and simple way to "cure" diabetes, it is not. The evaluation and waiting list time can vary from 1-3 years. The immunosuppressant drugs require a lifetime commitment.
How do I Become a Candidate?
You or your physician can start by calling the pancreas transplant team at 1-800-USC-CARE. Doctors at USC will coordinate needed medical tests, such as tissue typing, blood tests, blood screenings, and other studies as needed by the transplant team.
Then, a team of nephrologists, surgeons, social workers, nurse coordinators and any other specialists appropriate to your case will meet to discuss medical and psychological issues and whether pancreas transplantation is right for you. You will be fully informed of the process by the transplant team. Your referring physician will also be notified and informed of your progress. Team members encourage family involvement and support, and work closely with your family physician.
Whom Can I Turn to for Help?
All transplant patients have concerns while they wait for a donor pancreas. Each of the skilled health professionals who make up the transplant team takes a personal interest in caring for you. They will also help you keep your family's spirits up along the way. Team members include:
- Transplant surgeon
- Transplant physician (nephrologist)
- Transplant coordinator
- Floor or staff nurse
- Physical therapist
- Psychologist or psychiatrist
- Social worker
- Specialist, such as pediatricians, as needed
- Financial counselor
Transplant coordinators will explain the transplant procedure and prepare each patient for the experience. They are available to answer your questions. Support group meetings for USC pre- and post-transplant patients are a great place to gain strength and inspiration and learn from others who have gone through the process.
After surgery, your nurse coordinator will stay in touch with you, providing the information you need to go from hospital to home. Physicians, nurses and other staff members speak a variety of languages, offering a friendly and supportive environment to families from diverse cultures.
A quarterly newsletter for patients and families will give updates on the latest in transplantation news.
Transplant team members also help referring doctors stay current on renal disease, pancreas transplantation and transplant medicine. Our nationally respected physicians invite colleagues to call for consultations and questions about complex cases.
How Will Doctors Find a Pancreas for Me?
Patients waiting for an organ from a cadaveric donor are placed on the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) list, with donor pancreases going to patients from your region according to criteria developed to ensure equitable distribution of donated organs.
What Happens When a Cadaveric Pancreas Becomes Available?
As soon as a donor pancreas becomes available, the transplant coordinator will call you. Since this call could come at any time during the day or night, the transplant team should be able to reach you or your family whether at home, at school or at work. You should provide the team with the phone numbers of family members and close friends as well, just in case. When the phone call comes, the coordinator will advise you when to arrive at the transplant center.
If you are the recipient, plan to have a designated driver, someone available at all times and reachable by phone. If your child is the recipient, plan in advance or drive or designate a friend or family member as a driver. The route to the transplant center should be mapped out in advance.
If home is out of state or far from the hospital area, the transplant coordinator may help arrange transportation. Patients and their families who plan carefully can catch a commercial flight in plenty of time for a successful operation.
As soon as a pancreas is available, you will be advised by the nurse not to drink or eat anything. This is to ensure that your stomach is empty for surgery.
What Happens After Surgery?
Nurses will move you to the transplant intensive care unit after surgery. If the pancreas is working properly, you soon will leave the intensive care unit. The average USC pancreas transplant patient spends about ten days in the hospital, from admission to discharge. Before discharge, the transplant coordinator will work with you to teach you about your medications, instructions and appointments.
During the first month after discharge, surgeons will see you once a week and you will have blood tested twice a week. All immunosuppressive medications are monitored by the transplant team for the first three months, then care begins to transition back to the referring physician. Patients are routinely seen once to twice a year by the transplant team. Depending on the type of transplant, patients will take a regimen of medication on a long-term basis to prevent rejection.