Pancreas Transplant | Transplant | Loyola Medicine

Pancreas Transplant

Dedicated, Thorough Care for Pancreas Transplant Patients

Loyola Medicine offers the highest level of multidisciplinary, integrated care for patients with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes who are in need of a pancreas transplant. Preparation for a pancreas transplant is an extensive process and includes a detailed evaluation, a search for a donor pancreas, the transplant surgery and a recovery period.

At Loyola, you will have an entire team on your side, including your transplant surgeon, anesthesiologists, nurse coordinators, nurse practitioners, procurement nurses, transplant chaplains, infectious disease specialists, physical therapists, dietitians, financial coordinators, clinical pharmacists, social workers and psychologists. Other members of your care team may include specialists in diabetes and endocrinology, family medicine, nephrology, psychology and urology. We have one goal: restoring you to better health.

Why Choose Loyola for Pancreas Transplants?

Loyola is one of only three centers in Illinois that perform transplants on five major solid transplant organs: heart, lung, kidney, liver and pancreas. We began our solid organ transplant program in 1971 with our first kidney transplant. Loyola established Chicago's first heart transplant program in 1984, Chicago's first lung transplant program in 1988 and its liver transplant program in 1997. In 2016, Loyola had a record-setting year with 246 solid organ transplants and also successfully transplanted ten organs into six patients in 22 hours.

Medical director Amishi Desai, DO, and surgical director Raquel Garcia Roca, MD, head the pancreas transplant program. The program is approved by the United Network for Organ Sharing and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

What Diseases are Treated with Pancreas Transplant?

Patients may be candidates for pancreas transplant if they have type 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes.

Patients whose pancreas no longer provides sufficient insulin to the body are the most common recipients of a new pancreas, as this transplant eliminates the need for insulin injections. A successful pancreas transplant also helps reduce the risk of low blood sugar reactions as well as dietary/activity restrictions that accompany diabetes.

Depending on the patient, a pancreas in combination with a kidney transplant may be recommended instead of transplanting a pancreas alone.

Evaluation and Wait List for Pancreas Transplants

You may be recommended for a pancreas transplant if you have type 1 diabetes but normally functioning kidneys. If your kidneys are not functioning properly, you may be recommended for a combination kidney and pancreas transplant. You may also be a candidate for pancreas transplant if you require frequent insulin reactions or have poor blood sugar control.

There are several types of pancreas transplants:

  • Pancreas transplant alone
  • Simultaneous pancreas-kidney transplant (SPK) - The pancreas and kidney are transplanted at the same time from the same deceased donor.
  • Pancreas-after-kidney transplant (PAK) – A donor pancreas is transplanted after a previous living or deceased donor kidney transplant from a different donor.

Almost all pancreas transplants involve a deceased donor, but a living donor may be able to donate a partial pancreas to the transplant recipient.

If your doctor recommends a pancreas transplant as the next step in your care, you will first be educated about the transplant process and sign a consent form in order to move forward. You will then meet with a transplant surgeon who will review your medical history and conduct a physical exam. Several tests will be ordered to assess the status of your health. We will be there with you every step of the way, informing you of your test results and next steps. You may also meet with a financial advisor, transplant coordinator, dietitian and social worker to provide information and answer your questions.

The Medical Review Board will discuss your case and decide whether you are a good candidate for a pancreas transplant. If so, you will be registered with the United Network for Organ Sharing, more commonly called UNOS. Your wait time for a deceased-donor pancreas depends on many factors, including your medical urgency and compatibility to the donor.

Exceptional Care and Advanced Surgical Techniques for Pancreas Transplant

There are several types of pancreas transplants:

  • Pancreas transplant alone
  • Simultaneous pancreas-kidney transplant (SPK) - The pancreas and kidney are transplanted at the same time from the same deceased donor.
  • Pancreas-after-kidney transplant (PAK) – A donor pancreas is transplanted after a previous living or deceased donor kidney transplant from a different donor.

Almost all pancreas transplants involve a deceased donor, but a living donor may be able to donate a partial pancreas to the transplant recipient.  

What to Expect with Pancreas Transplant Surgery

Once a pancreas becomes available, your medical team will quickly make the arrangements for the surgery and your hospital stay. Your nurse coordinator will inform you and your family about where to go and when to arrive.

If you are receiving a kidney or partial pancreas transplant from a living donor, both you and the donor will be in surgery at the same time. If your pancreas is from a deceased donor, you will begin surgery as soon as you arrive at Loyola.

Pancreas surgery typically takes between four to eight hours, depending on whether it is a pancreas alone or kidney-pancreas transplant.

Recovery - Ongoing Support and Treatment After Pancreas Transplant Surgery

After pancreas transplant surgery, you will stay in the intensive care unit for several days so your doctors and nurses can monitor your condition and make sure your new pancreas is functioning properly. You will likely stay in the hospital for a week or two so you can heal properly and for your doctor to check for any post-operative issues (including bleeding, leaking from the intestinal connection and pancreatitis).

You will be prepared for your return home and a schedule will be created for future routine visits and blood draws. You will be given instructions on your new medications, a post-transplant diet plan and education about how to recognize symptoms of rejection. Your post-transplant team, including a transplant coordinator, social worker, dietitian and psychiatrist, will be available to answer any questions you may have, at any time.

It is important to have frequent check-ups during the recovery process. You will also begin taking immunosuppressive medication, which you will take for the rest of your life to prevent your body from rejecting the new organ(s).

What Are the Risks of Pancreas Transplant Surgery?

Your Loyola transplant team will discuss the risks and benefits of transplant surgery with you prior to the procedure. Risks of any surgery include bleeding, infection and adverse reactions to anesthesia. Risks related to pancreas transplant surgery also include:

  • Blood clots
  • Breathing issues
  • Excess sugar in the blood (hyperglycemia)
  • Failure and/or rejection of the donated pancreas
  • Metabolic issues
  • Leaking urine or urinary tract infections

Your highly skilled Loyola transplant surgeon will work to reduce the risk of complications during and after your surgery.

To learn more, read our pancreas transplant frequently asked questions. Your transplant care team is available around the clock should you have a question or concern. Please call us at 708-327-4TXP/708-327-4897.

Comprehensive Donor Programs for Pancreas Transplant Recipients

Loyola offers unique programs to support potential pancreas donors and improve outcomes for our patients, including:

Living pancreas donor program – Living-donor transplants may be possible from a partial pancreas donor. Loyola provides comprehensive services for living donor candidates before, during and after surgery.

Our living donors work with their own care team, including a living donor advocate who ensures that they feel free from pressure while making the decision to donate. 

Common Questions about Pancreas Transplants

What to Expect Before Pancreas Transplant Surgery

How long should I expect to wait for my transplant?

The average waiting period is 18 months for a pancreas transplant and 20 months for a kidney-pancreas transplant, depending on organ availability and your medical condition.

Who pays for the operation?

Insurance, whether private, Medicare or Medicaid, will pay for your evaluation and surgery. Your insurance also pays for the evaluation and surgery for a living donor. Please contact your insurance company for specific levels of coverage.

What does the pancreas do?

The pancreas is a small organ located behind your stomach that controls your blood sugar levels. If your pancreas does not function properly or stops functioning properly, your blood sugar may rise to unhealthy levels, which may cause type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

How can I find out if I need a pancreas transplant?    

Talk to your primary care physician or endocrinologist to determine if you are a candidate for a pancreas transplant. You also can contact Loyola’s Transplant Center at 708-327-4TXP/708-327-4897.

How do I know if I qualify for a pancreas-alone or kidney-pancreas transplant?

You may qualify for a pancreas-alone transplant if you:

  • Have type 1 diabetes or are insulin dependent but have good kidney function
  • Become diabetic after having your pancreas removed

You may qualify for a combined kidney and pancreas transplant if you:

  • Have type 1 diabetes and are insulin dependent with poor kidney function

What is the age limit for a pancreas transplant?

Your medical condition will first determine your eligibility for a pancreas transplant. However, patients older than 65 may not be considered for this procedure.

What does it mean to be on “the list” for a pancreas transplant? 

After completing the evaluation process, Loyola’s multidisciplinary team reviews your results. If you are approved for a pancreas transplant, you will be registered with the United Network for Organ Sharing, more commonly called UNOS. This is the national waiting list for deceased-donor organs. It is used to match potential donor organs with recipients.

What should I be doing while I wait for a donor? 

In general, try to maintain your health as much as possible. In addition, continue to stay in touch with the transplant center and notify them of any changes in location or health. Your doctors may recommend specific medications or treatments to help you stay in the best health.

What to Expect After Pancreas Transplant Surgery

When can I stop taking insulin?

In most cases, you will not need to take insulin after pancreas transplant surgery or will cut down on your need for insulin after a short period of time, depending on your doctor’s recommendation.

What procedures must I follow after my transplant? 

You must take specific precautions to prevent rejection. You will need to take your immunosuppressive drugs and other medications exactly as prescribed. You will also be instructed on how to limit your exposure to infection.

How long will I have to take the anti-rejection medication? 

You will have to take these medications for as long as you have a transplanted organ. The anti-rejection medications are extremely important and must be taken every day to prevent rejection. Taking your medications is one of the most important things you need to do after your transplant surgery.