Islet cell transplant frees teen from life of chronic pain


by Baylor Scott & White Health

Jan 31, 2020

13-year-old Randy Lopez is no stranger to pain. Ever since he was a toddler, Randy has battled the pain of a genetic disease called chronic pancreatitis — until now.

Thanks to a total pancreatectomy with islet cell transplantation, Randy is looking forward to life without pain.

Searching for answers to chronic pain

For years, Randy’s mother Holly never knew what was causing her son so much pain. She brought him to countless emergency room visits trying to get to the bottom of it, but the doctors they met couldn’t pinpoint the cause of Randy’s pain.

Randy’s quality of life was poor, filled with severe abdominal pain, lack of energy, weight loss and depression.

“I was ready for anything really to stop the pain,” Randy said. “Sometimes you don’t know if there’s ever an end. Life in a cage where you’ll never be set free.”

Related: Islet cell transplant restores quality of life for man with chronic pancreatitis

But his mother never stopped researching potential causes until she finally found the answer. Chronic pancreatitis.

“I knew there was something seriously wrong with Randy,” Holly said. “Thankfully, after years of medical visits, a doctor in Arizona identified what was happening. Once we knew what was causing the problem, we then started researching ways to address the issue.”

The pancreas is an organ located in the abdomen, near the back of the stomach. It has both exocrine and endocrine functions. The exocrine function is to produce enzymes to convert food into fuel for the body’s cells. The endocrine function is to produce hormones, including insulin, to regulate digestive processes. Chronic pancreatitis is caused by abnormal activation of the digestive enzymes that cause inflammation of the pancreas, leading to fibrosis and atrophy of the gland.

A lifechanging procedure

After researching online and through a doctor’s referral, Holly contacted the Baylor Annette C. and Harold C. Simmons Transplant Institute at Baylor University Medical Center.

After speaking with Sharon Bruer, pancreatitis clinic coordinator, Holly decided to take action and get Randy the surgery he desperately needed. In December 2019, Randy underwent total pancreatectomy with islet cell transplantation at Baylor University Medical Center.

The surgery involved removing the pancreas, taking the organ to a laboratory where the islet cells are isolated from the exocrine cells, then infusing the islet cells into the liver. Once they are engrafted in the liver, these islet cells produce insulin, which regulates the blood glucose in the body.

Randy is the youngest patient to have had this procedure at Baylor University Medical Center, performed by Ernest Beecherl, MD.

“When a mother comes into our clinic two months post-operation and sincerely says ‘thank you’ for giving her child back, whether the child is 13 or 33, that never gets old,” Dr. Beecherl said.

“When a mother comes into our clinic two months post-operation and sincerely says ‘thank you’ for giving her child back, whether the child is 13 or 33, that never gets old,” Dr. Beecherl said.

Today, Randy is back home in Cedar Park, Texas, recovering and looking forward to life with less pain thanks to his mom’s determination and his skilled care team.

“I’m so thankful to have had this surgery,” Randy said. “I want to thank Dr. Beecherl for everything he did for me. He saved my life.”

Learn more about islet cell transplantation.

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