Pancreas Transplant Patient: “The Doctors Saved My Life.”

Marie Beaver has been a patient of IU Health transplant surgeon Dr. Jonathan A. Fridell for nearly 12 years. She recently spoke about a life-saving transplant that changed her life.

It wasn’t what she expected. Marie Beaver said she was riddle with fear when she first met Dr. Jonathan Fridell.

“Wow. It wasn’t what I expected. I talk too fast, I’m hyper, and I found someone who could keep up with me. He was no ordinary surgeon, He accepted my medical mess with enthusiasm,” said Beaver. And so started a long road to her transplant and ongoing healing. But the health challenges started much earlier.

In 1994 Beaver had been diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). She was 21. SLE is an autoimmune disease that attacks the body mistaking it for healthy tissue. Inflammation caused by lupus can affect various body parts including the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs. To help treat her symptoms, Beaver had been on regular doses of Prednisone. In 2001 she developed diabetes.

“My introduction to diabetes started out with me waking up in a hospital bed and being told I’d been in a diabetic coma,” said Beaver.  “I was spending three weeks a months inpatient. My sugar would hit 500 and by 3:00 I’d be in the 30s we could not control it. It was like being punch drunk all the time. It was scary and it was medication-induced but I couldn’t stop the medication.”

There was hope.

Thirty years ago, surgeons at University Hospital performed the hospital’s first pancreas transplant on a patient who suffered diabetes. From then on, pancreas transplant became a viable option for patients like Beaver who are unable to maintain a healthy blood glucose level consistently.

For Beaver, receiving a healthy pancreas meant restoring her life. A graduate of Arlington High School, she attended IUPUI, studying psychology and started her career working at a hospital. But her illness took its toll and eventually she was unable to work.

“Through everything, my family has been so supportive,” said Beaver, the daughter of Jo and Russ Beaver. She has two sisters – Liz Fleetwood who is a nurse at Riley Hospital; and Mary Lehmkhl.

By the time she went in for her transplant she weighed about 180 pounds, was swollen, complaining of aching ribs, and was afraid to go to sleep at night because of her severe fluctuating blood sugar levels.  On October 10, 2007, she was transplanted.

“I was told it was a life or death situation. I couldn’t go on any more like I was. Dr. Fridell and the doctors at IU Health saved my life,” said Beaver. “When I woke up from transplant I felt like I was 17 again – healthy and alive.” 

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email