Pancreas Transplant

Surgeons at Houston Methodist J.C. Walter Jr. Transplant Center perform transplantation primarily for patients diagnosed with type 1 diabetes who also have kidney failure. Patients with type 1 diabetes and normal kidney function will be considered on a more selective basis.

After a successful pancreas transplant, you should immediately notice an improved quality of life. Your blood sugar levels will be normal, you won’t need insulin shots, and you’ll enjoy an unrestricted diet. Recent clinical studies suggest pancreas transplantation will stabilize and possibly even reverse the secondary effects of diabetes, such as eye, kidney and nerve damage.

A pancreas transplant may be performed in three different ways:
• As a simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplant
• As a kidney transplant followed later by a pancreas transplant
• As a pancreas-only transplant

Patients with type I diabetes and renal failure have two options. The first option is to be placed on a waiting list to receive a kidney and pancreas from a deceased donor. This type of simultaneous kidney-pancreas transplant treats both kidney failure and diabetes in one surgical procedure, but the waiting time is usually more than a year.

The second option is for a patient to receive a kidney from a living donor, such as a relative or friend, followed by a pancreas transplant from a deceased donor. This approach allows patients with kidney failure to avoid dialysis or to be removed from dialysis while they wait for a pancreas transplant. A living donor kidney transplant can be performed within weeks after your clearance for transplantation.

The third option of a pancreas-only transplant is reserved for patients with severe type I diabetes and normal kidney function. 

Transplantation Evaluation 
Following your referral to the transplant center, our experts will perform a detailed health evaluation and assessment to better understand your medical condition and your fitness for surgery. You also will meet with a financial counselor to review your insurance coverage and discuss financial considerations associated with a transplant. Medicare and most private insurance companies will reimburse costs for a kidney-pancreas transplant. 

Additionally, you will meet with a social worker to ensure that you and your family are prepared for the stress that often accompanies the transplant process.
Once placed on the transplant list, you will be required to maintain fitness for surgery and be ready for transplant. You will be re-evaluated at the transplant center every six months until the time of your transplant.

Transplant Surgery
Typically, a kidney-pancreas transplant takes three to four hours. The pancreas and kidney are placed within the abdominal cavity through a vertical incision in the middle of the abdominal wall. The pancreas is attached to the groin vessels on the right side of the pelvis. The duodenum of the pancreas (where pancreatic juice is deposited) is connected to your small intestine and the ureter of the kidney is connected to your bladder. The kidney is attached to the groin vessels on the left side of the pelvis and the ureter is connected to the bladder.

After Transplantation
Typically, the standard hospital stay is seven to nine days following the transplant, depending on your progress.

During the first eight weeks after surgery, your activities will be limited. You should be able to return to most normal activities within two to three months after surgery.

Our team will monitor your progress, so you must be available for clinic visits and lab tests. Follow-up monitoring allows us to determine how well your new pancreas and kidney transplants are functioning. We will work with you to create a healthy diet and exercise plan to help you regain your strength and reduce the risk of diseases that could damage your new organ.

Islet Cell Transplantation
At Houston Methodist Hospital, surgeons perform pancreatic islet auto-transplantation following a total pancreatectomy (whole pancreas removal). This procedure is reserved for patients who don’t have type 1 diabetes but who have severe pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) resulting in chronic abdominal pain. The surgeon removes the pancreas and then extracts and purifies the islet cells that make insulin. The islets then are infused through a catheter into the patient's liver to give the body enough healthy islets to make insulin. In this way, patients with chronic pancreatitis who require removal their pancreas will be relieved of pain and avoid the complications of diabetes.

Click here to learn more about the pancreas transplantation process and what to expect before and after surgery. 


Our physicians specialize in pancreas transplantation at the following locations.