Pancreas transplant process at Mayo Clinic

At Mayo Clinic, the pancreas transplant process involves many steps before, during and after your pancreas transplant surgery.

Mayo Clinic doctors trained in pancreas transplantation and other members of the transplant team evaluate you and determine whether a pancreas transplant may be safe and beneficial for you. Your evaluation usually lasts three days and may include:

  • Physical examination
  • Blood tests, including blood and tissue type analysis
  • Imaging tests
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Echocardiogram and other heart testing
  • Consultations with specialists in diabetes (endocrinologists), heart and blood vessel disease (cardiologists), pancreas transplant, and other areas

Once you're approved for a pancreas transplant, you'll be placed on a waiting list for a donor. Remain in close contact by phone with the transplant team, and notify your transplant coordinator of any significant changes in your medical or social situation. Be prepared to get to the hospital quickly, within eight to 12 hours, after you receive notice that a donor pancreas is available. Also, maintain your general health as much as possible.

Transplant surgery

Before your transplant, you'll have blood tests to ensure that your body is compatible with the potential donor's organ and to check that antibodies in your body don't react to the donor's cells.

Surgery usually takes three to four hours. During surgery, your surgeon makes an incision down the center of your abdomen. Your surgeon places the donor pancreas and a small part of the donor's intestine in the right side of your pelvis. Your pancreas usually isn't removed, because it will continue to aid in digestion. Your surgeon connects the donor's pancreas to blood vessels that supply blood to your legs and connects a small portion of adjacent donor intestine to your small intestine. Your pancreas transplant often begins to function immediately, and your insulin needs may be minimal if any.

Mayo Clinic offers many transplant options for people with diabetes. Some people may receive a pancreas transplant at the same time as or after receiving a kidney transplant. Others may need only a pancreas transplant without plans for a kidney transplant. Mayo Clinic surgeons have expertise in kidney transplant surgery and pancreas transplant surgery, and surgeons work as an integrated team in kidney and pancreas transplants.

After your transplant, you'll likely stay in the hospital for five to seven days to recover. Your treatment team will monitor your recovery progress in the hospital, including checking your incision area, helping you manage your pain, assisting with emotional concerns, educating you, adjusting any insulin needed and checking for any signs of rejection or complications.

After your transplant

After leaving the hospital, you'll need to stay near Mayo Clinic for several weeks so that your doctors can monitor the function of your new pancreas and your recovery.

  • Follow-up care. Your doctor will update your primary health care provider about your progress and give recommendations for your care at home. In addition, a certified transplant nurse coordinator will provide you with follow-up care for life, and will be available to answer your questions and communicate with you and your primary health care provider.

    After you return home, you'll have regular weekly blood tests for four months, and less frequently after that. You'll need follow-up appointments at Mayo Clinic after three months and then once a year, or more frequently if necessary. In follow-up appointments, doctors remove small samples of your pancreas tissue (biopsy) to test for signs of rejection.
  • Medications. You'll need to take immunosuppressive medications daily for life to keep your body from rejecting your donor pancreas. Your transplant team will discuss your new medications in detail.
  • Returning to wellness. The transplant team considers your return to wellness after your transplant a priority. You'll be given specific guidelines to return to wellness through a supervised exercise plan and a nutrition plan. Your doctor will also recommend lifestyle recommendations, such as wearing sunscreen and avoiding tobacco use. Your transplant team will work with you to help you make healthy lifestyle choices to achieve the best possible transplant outcome.

Read more about pancreas transplant and diabetes.