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Pancreas transplant patient home, doing well

Monday, July 19, 2004

John Barry Lawson is home and doing well. He had a pancreas transplant July 1, at the Indiana University Transplant Center, University Hospital in Indianapolis. The 40-year-old father of two has been a diabetic since birth. Even taking four insulin shots a day, the disease caused increasing physiological deterioration of his body, especially the kidneys.

His doctor told him more than a year ago, if he didn't get a pancreas transplant he would probably die within the next couple of years. He eventually got on the donor list, then all he could do was wait.

John was on his way home from an appointment with a diabetic doctor in St. Louis, June 30, when he got the call. A pancreas was available and he needed to get to University Hospital as soon as possible.

Arriving that evening, John was taken to surgery about 2:10 a.m. Thursday morning. His blood sugar at that time was 328 mg/dl. The pancreas started working immediately. Twenty minutes after the five-hour surgery was completed, his blood sugar was 200. Normal blood sugar levels are 80-110.

Doctors told John he would be in the hospital about two weeks. IV fluids provided his nutrition for the first 48 hours. He quickly graduated from clear liquids and full liquids, to a soft diet. For dinner on his fourth post-op day John was offered a full menu.

He was sitting up in a chair and later walking a short distance on the day of surgery. He had various tubes protruding from numerous parts of his body and an approximate 12-inch incision running from just beneath his breast bone to his pubic bone with about 32 clamps. John said his stomach was a little sore, but other than that, he really felt pretty good.

His abdominal dressing was removed Sunday so the wound was open to the air to promote healing. He surprised his doctors with his exceptional, problem-free recovery. His doctors surprised John by letting him go home Wednesday, just six days after his life saving surgery.

Recuperating at his dad's home, he's taking eight different medications, about 20 pills a day. Most will be discontinued when the need is eliminated. However, he'll have to take the anti-rejection drugs the rest of his life.

He takes no insulin. His blood sugar is relatively normal.

John must wear a mask for 90 days to help prevent infection which could be damaging to the new pancreas. He has to have follow up testing done twice a week and he still checks his blood sugar four times a day. But he's not complaining about anything.

"July 1, 2004, is my new born-on date," John said on the front porch of his dad's home the day after his hospital release. A big smile was evident even behind the mask.

"I feel great, emotionally and physically except for a sore stomach. That's mostly from the seat belt hitting on it during the ride home.

"I'm happy. I'm not shooting up four times a day and I can pretty well eat what I want now."

John's very favorite dessert is banana split cheesecake from Kleptz's Restaurant in Seelyville. He won't go to the restaurant for a while because he's trying to avoid crowds to reduce his chance of infection. But he's looking forward to that first bite of cheesecake as a non diabetic.

"When I go, I'm telling the girls I don't want a piece, I want the whole cheesecake. That's my favorite. But I'm willing to try something new if anyone wants to donate," John said laughing, his eyes sparkling.

"I'm looking forward to the future," he said. "I'll get to watch my daughter, LeeAnn, graduate, get married, go to college. She's 11 now."

John saw his doctor in Indianapolis July 15. The staples were removed and he was given permission to drive. He also received some really good news.

"My kidneys are improving," John said. "Doc said the protein levels are dropping and in a six months or so the renal damage may clear up.

"I know God had a hand in this. Lots of my friends and co-workers have been praying for me. I'm just so lucky."

John has many plans for his future now that he feels like he has a future. He may return to work as a conductor at CSX when he's medically released. He's also thinking about the possibility of returning to a job he once loved, driving a truck.

He hopes to go to the diabetic camp in Bradford Woods next summer and talk to the kids. He hopes to be an inspiration to older diabetics as well.

"I'll let the kids know they don't have to suffer with this as long as I have," John said. "I'm no longer a diabetic. And I want to give a message to the older diabetics. The cure is here!"

John has one task ahead of him that won't be so easy. His donor was a 21-year-old man who died on the operating table in Kansas City. He was having surgery for complications from an automobile accident.

"I'm going to contact his family and let them know how I'm doing."

He'll send a letter to the hospital where the man died. They will offer the letter to the family who will decide whether or not to accept it. Then it's up to them if they want to make contact with John.

"I want to tell them, your son is a part of me now. I'd like to accept you as a part of my extended family."

John plans on becoming an organ donor.

"Someone gave the gift of life to me," he said. "I want to offer the same gift to someone else when my time comes."



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