New Pancreas Disease Clinic Gives Patients New Hope The only clinic of its kind in the region.

New Pancreas Disease Clinic Gives Patients New Hope The only clinic of its kind in the region.
Katie Eastman was afraid her pain was just part of living. For five years, the young mother suffered with crippling pain in her midsection. “Horrible pain, debilitating pain, severe nausea,” she says. “It was constant all day long. Eating made it worse, so that became a problem.”

Eastman saw doctors at another hospital. When removing her gallbladder didn’t solve the problem, they sent her to The Nebraska Medical Center where she was seen by the team in the newly-created Comprehensive Pancreatobiliary Disorders and Autologous Islet Cell Transplant Clinic. “The impetus behind starting this clinic was making sure we could offer specialized care for these individuals,” explains surgeon Luciano Vargas, MD.  “These patients have complex problems and often they get left behind.”

Doctors at the clinic diagnosed Eastman’s debilitating pain as chronic pancreatitis. They recommended a transplant, but not a kind Eastman was familiar with. She needed an auto-islet cell transplant, where surgeons remove the pancreas and relocate the islet cells, which release insulin. “We are able to infuse those islet cells into the liver where they retain their function,” Dr. Vargas explains. “It is just housing the islet cells. The islet cells have just changed zip codes if you will. They were in the pancreas, now they’re sitting in the liver.”

For Eastman, hearing the word “transplant” was daunting at first. “Anytime you hear transplant, you freak out a little, obviously,” she says. “But as soon as I walked in and met my surgeon it all subsided. I felt very comfortable, I was ready to get it done. I was tired of suffering. I was like, ‘how fast can we do it?’”
Since her transplant, Eastman has lived a pain-free life she had almost forgotten during her five-year struggle with pancreatitis. “My husband has his wife back, my kids have their mom back and I have my life back, so I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

While the clinic is new, the physicians behind it bring with them years of experience in a number of medical specialties. “Not only do you have a surgeon involved, you have a pancreatic specialist from a GI standpoint involved, you have an endocrinologist involved,” Dr. Vargas says. “So that’s the biggest thing we’ve done. Consolidated these individuals into one place.”

In addition to the specialist physicians in the clinic, there is also a nurse case manager who works directly with each patient. “Prior to coming to this clinic, many patients feel like they’re not being heard,” says Christina Sailors, clinical nurse coordinator at the clinic. “They can’t go to school, they’re missing work and sometimes they’re on disability. They’re really at the end of their rope when they contact us. So to give them hope is really exciting.”

Eastman says she has found that hope and happiness. “When I walked in here, they got to know me as a person, not just me as a patient. I’d recommend this place to anyone. I wouldn’t go anywhere else.”

 

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