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Published on January 18, 2019

Scott Good and Robert Santella, MD

Pancreas Transplant – A Cure For Type 1 Diabetes

For 38 years, type 1 diabetes defined the limits of Scott Good’s life – how he felt, what he could eat, what he could do. Dangerous blood sugar swings continuously put his life in jeopardy.

That all changed on April 13, 2013, when he had a pancreas transplant. Immediately, Good felt different – and better each day as he recovered from surgery. He almost didn’t believe the normal blood sugar readings that came back from the lab.

“Most often, patients who need an organ transplant are very sick – perhaps even close to death. When they do well after a transplant, it’s wonderful to see them completely transformed,” said Robert Santella, MD, Avera Medical Group nephrologist, who cares for patients before and after kidney and pancreas transplant surgery at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center.

The Avera Transplant Institute also offers kidney and liver transplant, as well as the region’s only accredited bone marrow transplant program. Throughout the past two decades, Avera McKennan has performed more than 1,400 transplants, including over 800 solid organ (kidney, pancreas and liver) transplants.

Good, of Watertown, S.D., was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 10 in December of 1974. “As a kid with diabetes, you feel out of place. I was pretty non-compliant. I ate sweets and such. I was always the sick kid.”

In type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops working. Although diabetes care technology has come a long way with more accurate blood sugar testing and insulin pumps, Good’s blood sugar was always difficult to control.

“My blood sugar always ran high no matter what. My A1Cs were out of this world – often at 10, 11 or 13,” compared to normal at 5.7 percent or below. In fact, Good once landed in a diabetic coma, which can occur from either extremely high or extremely low blood sugar.

The uncontrolled nature of his disease made Good a strong candidate for a pancreas transplant. The right call came after being on the wait list for 11 months. He remembers feeling excited as he was wheeled into the surgery suite, and placed into the capable hands of Avera transplant surgeons, Christopher Auvenshine, DO, and Jeffery Steers, MD.

Shortly after the transplant surgery, Good’s new pancreas began working, and he was no longer diabetic. “While my body still has the damage of being a type 1 diabetic for 38 years, that damage was stopped,” he said. Good, like all transplant patients, needed to take immunosuppressant medications to prevent organ rejection. And, he needs to do what he can to stay in good health by eating well, exercising and watching his weight.

Yet Good can enjoy that occasional piece of pie without fear of major repercussions. “Had he not had a transplant, Scott would be a different man today with five more years of uncontrolled diabetes. He probably would be experiencing kidney failure by now, and be on dialysis,” Santella said.

Good is grateful for his Avera transplant team, as well as the individual who said “yes” to organ donation on his driver’s license, and the donor’s family who said “yes” to organ donation at the time of death.

“Families who support organ donation help other people live in memory of their loved ones who have passed for whatever reason,” Good said. “I’m still walking and living life, and I’m fully grateful.”

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