Sam's Kidney-Pancreas Transplant Surgery Experience

Sam, a 49-year-old kidney-pancreas recipient, shares his hospital experience.

I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the summer of1973. Over the years, I thought I was managing fine and everything was going OK.

Then, in 1998, I started to notice that my ankles looked fat. I just didn’t have any energy. I got it checked out, and the doctor told me that my diabetes was starting to impact my kidney function. Eventually, I had to go on dialysis.

"Everyone at the hospital truly demonstrated to me what compassion is all about. They were really wonderful to me."

Around the same time, I looked into getting a kidney-pancreas transplant at the University of Chicago. I went through all the evaluations and was put on the waiting list. I was only on dialysis for a little over a year when they found a suitable kidney and pancreas for me. It was a Friday evening, and I had just left dialysis when I found out. My wife and kids came to pick me up. We all stopped at Pizza Hut for some food when my sister bursts in and yells, “Get to the hospital, get to the hospital.” I stood up and said, “Who’s hurt?” Then, my sister said, “No, they have organs for you.”

I remember feeling really scared when I got the news. Suddenly everything I wanted was right in my face. All kinds of thoughts were going through my head. After the initial shock wore off, we started driving to the hospital. But something told me to stop and call. So I called, and the pre-transplant coordinator told me that they needed to check the organs again. She told me to go home and wait for her to call me. So, we went home. Then, around midnight, they called back and said the organs were a good match, and I should come in.

So, my wife and I went to the hospital. Once we got there, we had to check in. Then, they took me almost immediately to prep for the operation. They gave me a shot to start making me sleepy. Then the surgeon came in and explained exactly what was going to happen. I finally dozed off, and they took me up to surgery.

My wife said it was a five-hour operation. Right after the transplant, the surgical team noticed I was bleeding internally. So, they took me back into surgery to fix the bleeding. But everything turned out fine. I woke up the morning after my surgery. My wife and kids were standing around and looking at me, asking if I was OK. It felt like I was dreaming throughout the whole thing.

"Gear yourself up for getting through this."

After I woke up, the surgeon came in and said everything had gone well other than the little episode of bleeding. Both my new kidney and my new pancreas started working right away. I no longer needed dialysis or insulin shots. The surgeon encouraged me to get up and start walking. But I was like, "Whoa, is it even OK to move?" But he said I should be able to get up and start walking the next day. He said the sooner I can walk, the sooner I can get out. So, I was kind of bent on getting out as soon as I could.

Slowly but surely, I started moving around the room and then down the hall a little bit. By the third day, I was walking all the way down the hall and back to the room with no difficulty. I would stop at the nursing station and say “Hi” throughout the day.

I wasn’t in very much pain. I found this odd given everything that my body had been through. I also don’t remember being bothered by a lot of tubes or monitors. I did have a tube through my nose and down my throat for a couple of days, and that was annoying. It didn’t hurt. It was just annoying.

It was really amazing to me that so many doctors, nurses, and other staff came in to talk to me. They weren’t just people doing a job. They seemed to be really concerned and caring folk. You hear that all the time. But I think I was privileged to really experience it. They really took care of you as a person--as one human being to another human being.

I was in the hospital for 10 days. And when it was time to get out, I honestly started crying. The nurses and other staff were crying, too. There was a real connection there. Everyone at the hospital truly demonstrated to me what compassion is all about. They were really wonderful to me.

Sam has now been an organ recipient for three years. He feels great and no longer needs dialysis or insulin shots. He has this advice for other transplant patients: "Gear yourself up for getting through this. You’ve got to make it up in your mind that this is what you’ve been waiting for and looking for. So, do everything the doctors and nurses tell you to do."

September 2006