Living Without a Pancreas?


DALLAS, Texas (Ivanhoe Newswire) — Your pancreas helps you digest food and regulates your blood sugar. Chronic pancreatitis does not heal, and it can cause permanent damage, even cancer.  Most doctors miss it. For some people, removing the pancreas is the best solution, but living without a pancreas requires another procedure, transplanting islet cells to produce insulin. Ivanhoe tells about one woman’s brush with death … and how doctors saved her.

For 18 years, nothing could distract Jan Beltran’s deadeye horseshoe pitching until a brutal belly pain sent her reeling.

Jan explained, “I would feel like I’m starving to death. It’s a gnawing, nagging, deep, constant, never go away pain. It was right here and would radiate around to the back.”

The 58-year-old couldn’t eat … her weight plummeted … and the pain got so bad that narcotics and a feeding tube came next.

“And I got down to 70 something pounds at one point,” continued Jan.

Once her doctor diagnosed her with chronic pancreatitis, he removed the entire organ. And then he harvested clusters of cells, which help Jan control her blood sugar, and grafted them back into her liver.

Ernest Edward Beecheri, MD, Medical Director, Islet Transplant Baylor University Medical Center, said, “Our stated goals for the procedure are the improvement of quality of life, becoming narcotic free, and hopefully being insulin free, and if not insulin free, easily controlled diabetic with hypoglycemic awareness.”

The successful surgical strategy gave Jan and her husband a pain-free return to the sport they love … and the only thing missing is her pancreas.

Jan is treated like a Type two diabetic and relies on an insulin pump to keep her blood sugar levels under control.

Contributors to this news report include: Don Wall, Field Producer; Roque Correa, Editor; and Pete Cuellar, Videographer.

REPORT #2735

BACKGROUND: The pancreas is an organ which plays an essential role in converting the food we eat into fuel for the body’s cells. The two main functions of the pancreas are an exocrine function that helps digestion and an endocrine function that regulates blood sugar. Exocrine enzymes include trypsin and chymotrypsin to digest proteins; amylase for the digestion of carbohydrates; and lipase to break down fats. The endocrine component of the pancreas consists of islet cells that create and release important hormones directly into the bloodstream. Two of the main pancreatic hormones are insulin, which acts to lower blood sugar, and glucagon, which acts to raise blood sugar. The pancreas is located behind the stomach in the upper left abdomen. It is surrounded by other organs including the small intestine, liver, and spleen. It is spongy, about six to ten inches long, and is shaped like a flat pear or a fish extended horizontally across the abdomen.


CHRONIC PANCREATITIS: CAUSES AND SYMPTOMS: Chronic pancreatitis is an inflammation of your pancreas that doesn’t improve over time. It’s considered acute when the inflammation comes on suddenly and only lasts for a short period of time, and chronic when it keeps coming back or the inflammation doesn’t heal for months or years. It can lead to permanent scarring and damage. Calcium stones and cysts may develop in your pancreas, which block the duct, or tube, that carries digestive enzymes and juices to your stomach. The blockage may lower the levels of pancreatic enzymes and hormones, which will make it harder for your body to digest food and regulate your blood sugar. This can cause serious health problems, including malnutrition and diabetes. Changes in your pancreas can become quite advanced before you begin to feel bad. When symptoms occur, they may include pain in your upper abdomen; diarrhea; fatty stools, which are loose, pale, and don’t flush away easily; nausea and vomiting; shortness of breath; unexplained weight loss; and excessive thirst and fatigue.


MORE TREATMENT OPTIONS: Johns Hopkins has a team-based approach to evaluating and managing patients with chronic pancreatitis. They constantly look for new medical, endoscopic and surgical therapies for treating these patients. Endoscopic therapy is most commonly offered to those patients who have a dilated pancreatic duct. These patients undergo an endoscopic procedure known as an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. The goal of this procedure is to dilate strictures, to remove pancreatic duct stones and to place pancreatic duct stents. There have been more developments in the field of endoscopic ultrasound with celiac plexus blockade. This procedure can be used to help alleviate the pain associated with chronic pancreatitis, as least in the short-term, as more long-term options are pursued. The greatest option that has emerged over the years for the surgical treatment of chronic pancreatitis is total pancreatectomy with or without islet cell transplantation.


* For More Information, Contact:

Matt Olivolo, Media Relations, BSWH

(214) 818-9551

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