Pancreas Transplant Evaluation & Process | MedStar Health

Why choose MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute for your pancreas transplant?

The MedStar Georgetown Transplant Institute pancreas transplant program is a national leader in pancreas and combined pancreas and kidney transplants for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

  • A leader in volumes and outcomes: Ranked in the top 10 of all U.S. programs for six of the past seven years in number of transplants performed and outcomes
  • Experience and expertise: Dedicated team of experienced pancreas transplant surgeons who are internationally known experts in the field
  • More experience and success treating complex patients: Our team has successfully treated many patients turned away by other programs
  • Shorter wait times: Wait times shorter than other programs for kidney/pancreas and pancreas transplantation
  • More transplants for patients with type 2 diabetes: Perform more pancreas transplants and combined pancreas and kidney transplants for patients with type 2 diabetes than other programs
  • A center of excellence for pancreas transplantation for most insurance networks

Understanding pancreas transplantation

Your pancreas is an organ about the length of your hand located behind the lower part of your stomach and intestines and just in front of the spine. One of its main jobs is to make insulin, a hormone that regulates the levels of glucose (sugar) in your body.

When your pancreas no longer works properly, your doctor may recommend pancreas transplantation. This procedure is used to treat type 1 and type 2 diabetes that has not been successfully controlled with medical treatment and is causing complications such as damage to your kidneys, nerves, and eyes or frequent dangerous low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia).

Pancreas transplant evaluation

Before you can be listed for pancreas transplantation, you will be evaluated to assess whether pancreas transplant is a good option for you. The evaluation includes:

  • Education about the benefits, options, and risks of pancreas transplantation and a meeting with our transplant physicians to answer your questions
  • Review of your medical history
  • Physical examination
  • Psychosocial evaluation with a transplant social worker to make sure you’ll have the support you need during and after the transplant process
  • Meeting with our financial counselor to make sure you have adequate coverage for your transplant and post-transplant expenses
  • Blood tests for tissue typing and antibody screening and to check the function of your heart, liver, and immune system, and screen for certain diseases
  • Heart tests
  • Chest X-ray and other imaging studies
  • Dental exam
  • Cancer screenings
  • Gynecological exam for women
  • Nutrition evaluation

Additional testing may be needed, depending on your health and other conditions you’re living with.

After a successful evaluation, you will be placed on the transplant waiting list and you’ll be notified that you’re on the list. During your time on the waitlist, it’s important to keep yourself as healthy as possible.

Pancreas transplant surgery

During the surgery, the surgeon places the donor pancreas in the right side of your abdomen and connects it to other organs. A piece of the small intestine comes attached to pancreas from the deceased organ donor. This is sewn to your small intestine so digestive enzymes from your new pancreas can drain into your small intestine, helping with digestion.

The surgeon does not remove your original pancreas. It remains in place to help with digestion. After the transplant, your new pancreas makes insulin, so you no longer need to take insulin.

Combined kidney and pancreas transplant

For people with kidney failure caused by diabetes, a combined kidney-pancreas transplant may be an option. During the operation, surgeons simultaneously transplant a kidney and a pancreas into the patient.

Following combined kidney and pancreas transplantation, the kidney will filter waste products from your blood so that you no longer need dialysis. The transplanted pancreas will produce insulin to control the diabetes and protect the new kidney, helping it to work better and last longer.

Patients with type 1 diabetes that has caused kidney failure may be eligible for a combined kidney and pancreas transplant. During the transplant, the surgeon transplants both a kidney and a pancreas. Following combined kidney and pancreas transplantation, the kidney will be able to filter wastes so dialysis will not be needed. The transplanted pancreas will produce insulin and control blood sugar levels.

Talk to your doctor to learn if you qualify for a combined kidney and pancreas transplants.

Recovery after surgery

After surgery, you’ll go to the inpatient transplant unit where you’ll take medicines to prevent infections and rejection of your new pancreas. Your doctor will check for possible problems such as clotting, major bleeding, or pancreatitis.

Your pain will be controlled with medications, and we will do everything we can to make sure you are as comfortable as possible. Most transplant patients have a significant reduction in pain during the first few days after surgery.

During your hospital stay, you learn how manage your everyday care and keep your newly transplanted organs healthy. You will be encouraged to get out of bed at least three times a day and walk around your room and the halls. This increases your circulation and helps healing.

You need to stay in the local area for four to six weeks after discharge to allow for close monitoring of your overall health, response to medications, and the health of your new organs.

After they recover from pancreas or combined pancreas and kidney transplant, most patients report that not only their health, but also their quality of life improve a great deal compared to life before their transplant.

Our providers

A team of transplant surgeons from MedStar Georgetown University Hospital pose for a group photo in the operating room.

Pancreas transplant team

Getting the care you need starts with seeing one of our providers.