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Touched by Transplant: The Debt I Can Never Repay

My name is John Wilson. On February 8, 2020, I received two new organs. This is how I was touched by transplant.

Let’s start at the beginning so you can understand just how much receiving these organs has meant to me.

In 1998 when I was 17, I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Little did I know that this diagnosis would cost me just about everything.

In 2005, I began to experience long-term complications with neuropathy in my feet and hands. By 2013, diabetes had caused my vision to become poor enough that at 32 years old, I lost my driver’s license. I experienced even more vision problems, and a year later, I could no longer work. In 2018, I was diagnosed with kidney failure.

If it sounds like I’m being a Gloomy Gus, trust me, I’m not—this is where my story turns around.

You see, not many people know that if you are a diabetic, a pancreas transplant can change your life. The pancreas is the organ that produces insulin, and if you receive a pancreas transplant, and the organ works, you are cured of type 1 diabetes.

It’s not viable for every diabetic to receive a pancreas transplant based on the lack of availability of these organs and the side effects of post-transplant anti-rejection meds. It’s also VERY difficult to get insurance to approve a single-organ pancreas transplant. If you need more than one organ, however, insurance is much more likely to approve it as a lifesaving measure.

I had two organs that weren’t working—a pancreas that had not worked for 22 years, and a kidney that was going to kick the bucket at any moment. That’s when my nephrologist (shoutout to Dr. Jeremy Sorkin at Columbia Nephrology) encouraged me to consider a double-organ transplant. In his eyes, the fact that I needed two organs was a good thing: it gave me a better chance to receive the gift of life.

The truth is that giving the gift of life is not easy, and neither is receiving it.

I am two months post-transplant now. While a person can become a living kidney donor, a pancreas is a different story: this organ must come from someone who has passed away. Because I was getting a pancreas too, my transplant team wanted me to get a kidney from the same donor to reduce my chances of rejection.

In short, I knew that someone would have to die so that I could receive these organs and live. It’s a very sobering thought.

Right now, I don’t know much about my donor. Generally, hospitals and organ sharing organizations like to give donor families at least a year to grieve before they make contact with a transplant recipient. There is one thing I do know about my donor, though: no matter what they did while they were here on Earth, they died a hero. They saved my life, and that’s a debt I can never repay.

I did get the chance to meet the person who received the other kidney from my donor while I was waiting in pre-transplant screening. We shared a moment. We were hopeful together.

Earlier, while I was on the transplant waiting list, I got the call to be the backup recipient for a pancreas and kidney. The person ahead of me was also in need of a pancreas, and they needed the transplant more than I did: they were receiving a pancreas, a liver, and an intestinal transplant all at once.

I am healthy now, and recovering well—I was lucky to get my transplant just before the COVID-19 pandemic became widespread in the U.S. I am now cured from type 1 diabetes thanks to my new pancreas, and my new kidney is functioning well, too. Fun fact: when surgeons perform this surgery, they don’t remove the old kidney or pancreas because the process is considered too invasive. So, I got “the big cut” down my stomach, and they just bolted ‘em in there.

In other words, I have two pancreases and three kidneys. Oh, and I. AM. ALIVE.

If you are reading this article, you can save a life and possibly even multiple lives.

This Donate Life Month, please become a registered organ donor. It’s as simple as checking a box, but one simple little choice can have a lasting impact in this world. When we pass, most of us want to leave a legacy. I can tell you from personal experience that I will never forget my donor, or what their legacy was to me, for as long as I live.

In addition to being a Help Hope Live client and organ donation advocate, John is a passionate member of our Gaming Committee, helping gamers to find meaningful ways to give back and spread hope. Find his Campaign Page at

Written by Emily Progin

Hope Travels Virtual 5K: Sunday, May 16, join us in the race for relief from medical debt! You choose the pace, place, and time of your race – and who it benefits. Register Now