The miracle of simultaneous kidney/pancreas transplantation provides an individual suffering from end-stage kidney (renal) failure and diabetes the opportunity for a healthier life. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, there are currently nearly 2,600 people on the waiting list for a kidney/pancreas transplant.

In the 1950s, kidney transplantation became a viable option for end-stage kidney failure. Fourteen years later (1968), the first pancreas transplant was successfully performed in Minnesota. In 1970, doctors performed St. Vincent Medical Center’s the first kidney transplant. In 1971, doctors Robert Mendez and Rafael Mendez, identical twins, began what has become a long and successful career in kidney transplantation at St. Vincent Medical Center. Incredibly, their first transplant surgery was performed on identical twins.

The Multi-Organ Transplant Center performs both cadaveric and living donor kidney transplantation.

Oftentimes, diabetes will eventually lead to kidney failure, making transplantation of both the kidney and pancreas a treatment choice. This choice can virtually eliminate diabetes, and provide for a healthier life. Careful evaluation, consideration and discussion between patients, families and their physicians is encouraged.

The Kidneys

Sophisticated reprocessing machines, the kidneys are bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a fist, located near the middle of the back, just below the rib cage. Everyday, the kidneys play a major part in maintaining the body’s internal environment, processing about 200 quarts of waste products and extra water, which are excreted as urine.

The kidneys:


  • monitor blood volume
  • filter the blood and form urine
  • regulate water, electrolyte and acid base balance
  • produce and metabolize some hormones
  • balance the amount of calcium, sodium and potassium present in blood
  • produce hormones that regulate blood pressure
  • stimulate the production of energy-rich red blood cells

At rest, an estimated 20% of blood output from the heart flows through the kidneys where it is filtered and reconditioned.

When the kidney’s fail, it is known as renal failure.

The Pancreas

The pancreas is a small organ, approximately six inches long, located in the upper abdomen, and connected to the small intestine. Because it is deep inside the body, it can make diagnosis of pancreas problems and disease difficult.

The pancreas is an essential organ in the body’s digestive process in two ways:

  • produces the enzymes necessary to digest protein, fat and carbohydrates so that they can be absorbed through the intestine
  • produces the endocrine cells that produce insulin which regulates the use and storage of the body’s main energy source: glucose or sugar.

How the kidneys and the pancreas work together

When the pancreas stops producing insulin, the patient becomes diabetic and the long term affects of high glucose can eventually effect the kidneys. A pancreas transplant can help to decrease the effects of diabetes.

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