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Happy Birthday to My Failed Pancreas

You’ve been in there 15 years today. What an amazing time it has been. You worked hard, keeping my glucose normal until a year ago. That’s longer than the average transplanted pancreas lasts. During that time I never had a single problem with you. You went to work as soon as you were stitched in place. By the end of the day, a nurse in ICU would tell me those four words I never thought I’d hear, “You’re not diabetic anymore.” I drifted off to sleep feeling more free than I’d felt in 21 years, in spite of all the tubes and wires that tethered me to all sorts of medical equipment.

You worked beautifully every day, right up until you stopped making insulin altogether. I gave you quite a workout in those first few months, eating sweets to my heart’s content, just because I could.

You held up in spite of all the harsh chemicals in my bloodstream keeping my immune system from attacking you. You held up after the kidney failed and I had to get another. You held up when I had cancer and my body was flooded with toxic chemotherapy.

You gave me 14 years of a life I bid farewell to when I was only twelve. At that ender age I had to accept that I would be diabetic for the rest of my life along with the insulin shots, a strict diet, and a long list of possible (and scary) health problems that went with it. After several years with the disease, some of those scary health issues began. It looked like my life was on a long downhill slide. After doing peritoneal dialysis for 9 months and waiting for a kidney, I discovered a pancreas could be transplanted.
Just like that, I had to rewrite reality. The impossible was possible after all.

I wasn’t the only one praying for your arrival. Hundreds of people held fund-raising events to raise the $50,000 I needed to pay for you. Insurance paid for the kidney, but not you. I’m not exaggerating when I say you were much-anticipated by many.

You reminded me and so many others miracles do happen. Some of them have never met me in person. Who knew one small organ no larger than a deck of cards could impact so many?
Of course, it wouldn’t have happened without the surgeons, the young man whose life ended the day before, and his family who allowed you to be donated to me. Because of that, my relationship with you was bittersweet right from the beginning. This is the first “re-birthday” I’ve celebrated since your retirement last year. Now it’s more bittersweet than ever. Yesterday, the anniversary of my donor’s death, I lit a white candle in his honor just as I’ve always done.

The kidney I received the same day I welcomed you to my body has been replaced and one day you will be as well. Then there won’t be any part of that young man who saved my life in there anymore.

But the impact of that day—the most life-altering event of my life—will live on for the rest of my life.

Jim’s book, What Didn’t Kill Me Made Me Stronger: How I Found Hope While Surviving Diabetes, Vision Loss, and Organ Transplant will be published this month.

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