Kidney/Pancreas transplant patient’s birthday holds extra-special significance

August 20, 2012

Last week was a big week for Heather Burton. The Columbia, Mo., resident celebrated her birthday on August 16th. It’s always been a special day. But this year, it took on extra significance because Burton was celebrating another major milestone in her health.

You see, Heather spent her eighth birthday at St. Louis Children’s Hospital being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. 31 years later, she was back in the hospital on her birthday – this time at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, where she was also born. 

The difference – now she was cured of diabetes after receiving a combined kidney/pancreas transplant performed by Jason Wellen, MD, director of kidney and pancreas transplant surgery at Washington University and Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Jason Wellen, MD, and Alison Kennedy, transplant coordinator, talk with Heather Burton (middle) about what to expect after she’s discharged from Barnes-Jewish Hospital.

Heather says she’s looking forward to never feeling the effects of low blood sugar again. But it’ll take a little time getting used to, since she’s been living the life of a diabetic for so long.

She also says she’s extremely thankful for the gift from her donor, and has him or her and their family in her thoughts.

“If you can be a donor, you can change so many people’s lives,” says Heather. “We all have the capability to fill out a donor card. It’s easy.”

Now, Heather is looking forward to going back to life as a registered dental hygienist. And to celebrating her next birthday, which will mark another milestone – a year of being diabetes free.

Heather was also featured on KSDK. You can watch that story here.

Hannibal area friends get kidneys from the same donor

May 21, 2012

People in the Hannibal, MO/Quincy, IL, area recently got demonstration of how a single organ donor can touch many lives.

Craig Beswick and Kim Jansen both of the Hannibal/Quincy area, shared a hometown and a long fight against chronic kidney disease. Beswick had been on the waiting list at Barnes-Jewish Hospital for a donor kidney for almost three years. Jansen had been waiting for a year.

Both of them had blood and tissue types which are not easy to match with the general population. For hard-to-match transplant candidates, the wait for suitable donor kidneys can last up to five years, and some people never find a match.

But in April, a remarkable thing happened. Both received kidney transplants – from the same donor at Barnes-Jewish.

WGEM- TV recently talked to Beswick and Jansen and Washington University physician Dr.  Jason Wellen, director of  kidney and pancreas transplant surgery at Barnes-Jewish story: friends-receive-kidney-transplants-from-same-donor

Patient celebrates a “second birthday,” freedom from diabetes and dialysis and a new future

May 8, 2012

Type 1 diabetes and kidney failure are both devastating conditions on their own. Together, they can be overwhelming.

Yes, insulin and dialysis can keep patients alive. But with a strict diet, daily insulin injections, the rigorous routine of dialysis treatments and many complications make it very difficult to live life to the fullest – or for very long.

For some patients, a combined kidney-pancreas transplant can be a second chance at not only longer life expectancy, but a normal, more active life.  Barnes-Jewish hospital kidney-pancreas transplant patient Nelson Brake shared his experience with us on his first transplant anniversary – a date he calls his “second birthday.”

Nelson’s story

Today is the 1 year anniversary of my 2nd birthday!
Last year on this day, I was driven to St. Louis by Calvin Troy Burgess and Pamala Kay Burgess (married 2 days ago. I was a groomsman for Troy.)
They were tired (understandably after the long, late night drive) and needed to get to the hotel, sleep, then head back to Springfield (still thankful for their help).

I was excited about the whole experience and the direction my life had turned. The dream of being free from the grip of dialysis and the constant struggle with type 1 diabetes would soon become a reality.  I was to receive a kidney-pancreas transplant.

I was checked into Barnes-Jewish Hospital and waited. The waiting was excruciating. After about 6 or 7 hours since the phone call sending me on this journey, the excitement wore off. It had been replaced with doubts and fears. I was constantly told that there was a possibility that I might not actually have the surgery. There were still many tests to be performed but everything looked great so far and got only better as time passed. I had prepared myself for the possibility of not having the transplant, perhaps more than for actually having the transplant.

I remember the staff all being wonderful to me, but as the minutes passed by, I became more and more frightened. This is LIFE CHANGING, I thought. My identity was going to change. Would I be able to handle this? Would I ALWAYS remember to take the medications? How could I afford the medications?  Did I deserve the trust everyone was placing in me, including the family of my donor? It all started to seem overwhelming.

I kept my fears in check right up until I was in pre-op. I remember thinking many things. Some of which were: Will I survive? I am hundreds of miles from home, alone, what if I die?

I prayed and tried to find strength in the Lord. He knew how much I could take for just before I decided to get up and leave, LITERALLY, they knocked me out for the surgery. NO JOKE, I was terrified.

I made it through. I woke up hallucinating from the prednisone and was in a daze for a while. The nurses and techs were all amazing and lifted my spirits, helping me forget at times that I was so far from home. I recovered quickly. I was sent home spending only 9 days in the hospital for the actual transplant. Amazing.

I have had ups and downs in the past year, including a strange fever that sent me back to Barnes-Jewish for 15 days but it gave me the opportunity to see familiar faces.

Overall I am happy with the way I have taken care of myself and my new organs. I have struggled with many issues in my life, the biggest has been my own mortality. Now I am free of dialysis and insulin injections. I have been a little late with my meds twice, once because of the time change for daylight savings, the other because of a conversation with my son on the phone long distance.

My 2nd birthday has given me something I had lost, a future.
My son is 18 years old and graduates from high school this year. I am looking forward to spending more time with him than I had once thought probable.

Thanks to all of those that have helped me along the way, including Andrea Markwardt (my transplant coordinator & friend) the surgeons, doctors, nurses and staff at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, the nurses and techs at Ozark Dialysis Services, my friends, family, my donor and their family, and God.

By Nelson Brake

A mom tells why donation was the “right thing to do”

November 15, 2011

Our partners at Mid-America Transplant Services, the region’s organ procurement organization, have a video by  donor mom June Laschober in their newest online newletter.

She talks about her son, Scott Laschober, a “teddy bear” of  a young man, who died  just as his life was starting to come together. June tells how in the face of this tragedy, making the decision to donate her son’s organs and tissue was “the right thing to do.” 

For anyone wondering what it’s like to make the decision to donate, this video answers that question. For organ or tissue recipients who may feel survivor’s guilt about getting the chance to live because someone else died, this video should be comforting.

Click here to take a look.

Young African Americans more likely to die on dialysis

September 8, 2011

It was long thought in the medical community that African Americans do better on dialysis than Caucasians. Because of the prevalence of diabetes and high blood pressure among African Americans, the majorityof those on dialysis in the U.S. are black.

But a study out of Johns Hopkins University finds that just the opposite of what doctors thought appears to be true, especially among young people. Young  African Americans age 18 – 30 are twice as likely as whites of the same age to die while on dialysis.

This could lead to a change in who is referred for kidney transplant, the researchers think. Currently, whites tend to be referred more frequently.

The researchers say that young black people with kidney failure need to be educated that transplant is likely to be a much better option than dialysis. Also, they say, doctors need to start referring more young African Americans for transplant.

Washington University research Amy Waterman, PhD, approached the problem of educating people on dialysis about their options, including transplant, by developing a program called “Explore Transplant.”

You can learn about that program by listening to this podcast:

-Kathryn Holleman

When having diabetes is all you’ve ever known, waking up without it can feel like a miracle

September 8, 2011

Danielle Scheetz was five when she was diagnosed with diabetes. Over the next six years she dealt with the disease, until at the age of 11 when her doctor gave her some terrible news – her kidneys were failing. Danielle would need a kidney transplant in order to survive.

With the help of her doctor, she and her father chose Barnes-Jewish as the transplant hospital. One fateful day, her pre-transplant coordinator called and said that Dr. Jason Wellen, Surgical Director of Kidney Transplant and Kidney/Pancreas Transplant, had a kidney and pancreas waiting for her.

When she woke up from surgery, she was told her blood sugars were normal and she didn’t have diabetes any longer.

In one day, the disease she had lived with for as long as she could remember was gone.

That’s a pretty good thing to hear.



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