Rare Transplant Surgery Gives Woman Second Chance at Life

Rare Transplant Surgery Gives Woman Second Chance at Life

By Kandiss Crone. CREATED Feb 12, 2013

Omaha, NE - As a volunteer EMS, Katie Eastman knows her duties are important when it comes to helping people during an emergency. But five years ago, Eastman found herself needing urgent medical care.  Everyday, the wife and mother of two had excrutiating abdominal pain - so bad, she thought she'd soon die. 

"I had my funeral planned, I really did and a lot of my family doesn't even know that," Katie Eastman said.

For several years she went from doctor to doctor, even had her gall bladder removed but to no avail. Her medical bills grew and so did her frustration. "People just didn't know what to do with me. Nobody knew what was causing it or what was going on," Eastman said. 

Eastman eventually learned she had chronic pancreatitis. Each year 80,000 people develop the disease. The leading causes: alcohol abuse, hereditary pancreatitis, and gall stones. 

"Knock you on your knees pain, and what was strange is I got this dizzy spell with it I just could not shake the dizziness."

After an agonizing five years, Eastman came to the Nebraska Medical Center for a very specialized procedure. Doctors removed her pancreas then transplated her healthy auto-islet cells to her liver to minimize her chances of getting diabetes. 

The Nebraska Medical Center just opened a special clinic designed to help patients like Eastman. She'd soon learn she'd be just the sixth person to undergo this surgery. 

"The clinic has been open now for three months and we've been seeing a good response from the community in terms of patients really feeling like this is something that offers them a new way to deal with a disease that can be very difficult and very debilitating for people.," Dr. Brian Boerner said. 

The transplant is so rare the Nebraska Medical Center becomes part of a small elite group of medical centers able to help patients with chronic pancreatitis. "Autologous islet transplant is only done at a handful of centers in the U.S. there's a few large centers that do it but primarily especially in the western half of the United States this is something that's not offered in very many states so we're fairly unique in that aspect," Dr. Boerner said. 

Although Eastman was a bit unnerved knowing doctors had only performed the transplant five times prior she says she'd wouldn't think twice about doing it all over again. "It's a complete 180. I couldn't do anything for five years. I missed the first five years of my son's life basically cause I couldn't do a thing. I was bed ridden it was horrible. I couldn't work. Now I have all kinds of energy. I'm conquering my dreams." 

Healthy and full of strength, Eastman is paying it forward, dedicated to help save lives now that she has hers back.