GIRARD - Candace Brown is a positive person. She exudes personality. She has patience. And she perseveres.
And she was in desperate need of a pancreas.
Brown has been sick since she was 11, when off-the-charts blood sugar put her in a diabetic coma. It didn't stop her - she was an athlete, running and playing basketball. She went to college and worked as a nurse for six years.
Candace Brown, 28, talks about the wait for a pancreas transplant earlier this month in her Girard home. This week, she’s in Minneapolis recovering from the surgery.
But last year, it got worse.
"I don't remember the last day I felt good," Brown said recently in her Girard home.
She said it's been a constant battle, keeping her sugar under control. The diabetes caused neuropathy. She injured her back and hip and walks with a limp. Some days, getting out of bed is too much. Her eyes are beginning to suffer, and she feels nauseated most of the time. Recently, she began struggling with vomiting, dehydration and orthostatic hypotension, causing her to get dizzy and faint.
How to help
Candace Brown's medication after transplant surgery will cost approximately $1,400 a month. For anyone wishing to help, an account called "Candace Brown Transplant Fund" is set up at Huntington Bank.
While a transplant surgeon waited in the operating room with a pancreas, storms kept delaying the flight for patient Candace Brown and her mother, Becky.
Eventually, the flight was canceled and new plans on overbooked flights were made. The organ is only viable for a certain number of hours.
"Two women, a mother a daughter from Seattle, went around and asked everyone on the plane to give up their seats," Becky Brown said.
Some questions were met with "No." Other people just put their heads down.
"The last two seats were two guys from Youngstown," she said.
Dan Aluise of Poland and Greg Blair of Salem were headed to Minneapolis to give a presentation to a client that SenSource Inc. had been courting for a while, according to Joe Varacalli, president of the company.
He said the two employees called him from the airport with the unusual dilemma.
"We wanted this account, but her life's more important than this," Varacalli said.
He said he figured God would work out the rest.
"And he did."
The pair made their appointment on time via another flight, and Candace Brown made it to the operating room.
"They're heroes, they really are," Becky Brown said.
So at 28, this vibrant blonde is unable to work and is on disability. And yet she laughs - says it's the only way.
"If you're not positive, you're ruining it for yourself," she said.
So she can sit with her 85-year-old grandmother and complain about the same ailments, noticing with humor that the younger of the two is on more medication. She has a friend with melanoma, and those are their nicknames for each other - "Hey Pancreas." "How ya doin', Melanoma?"
Unable to work, Brown no longer has health insurance. But even her fundraisers are funny. For one, the front of everyone's T-shirt says, "Who has two thumbs and needs a pancreas?" The back says "That girl," except Brown's, which says "This girl." Bracelets read "Pain in the pancreas."
Little more than a week ago, Brown was at the top of the transplant list, waiting for a call that would take her to Minneapolis for surgery.
Last Monday, the call came. There had been three before it that fell through - the first was a mistake because there was someone above her on the list; the second saw the pancreas ruined by a dye during harvesting; the third would have taken too long to arrive from Washington State.
"I didn't know that would be part of the game. I wasn't prepared for that," Brown said.
But this time, it was the real thing, and Brown is at the beginning a difficult recovery process - she's in a lot of pain and feeling very sick. Her mother, Becky Brown, is at the University of Minnesota Medical Center Fairview with her.
"We've been better, but we're very blessed and happy," Becky Brown said.
Candace's blood sugar level has been around 100 all week. Her new pancreas is working.
"They're very happy with the numbers," Becky Brown said of the doctors. "She (the surgeon) said this is one of the hardest surgeries as far as organs go."
Dr. Ty Dunn, surgeon at Fairview, explained in an email that a pancreas is surgically prepared for implantation in an operation that takes one and a half to two hours, and the pancreas transplant surgery generally takes about three to four hours.
"During this, the pancreas is connected to an artery and vein in the patient's pelvis, and in some cases, the digestive juices that the pancreas makes will drain into the bladder through a new connection," she wrote.
Candace Brown will remain in the hospital for a while longer, and then she and her mother will live in a nearby hotel for a few weeks before they can return home.
Dunn said in the email that the risks of surgery include bleeding, clotting, infection and a number of others, just as in any major surgery.
"The patient will need to take anti-rejection medication for as long as the pancreas has function, an average seven years - our longest function so far is 28 years," she said.
The patient got tears in her eyes talking about the possibilities.
"Just to wake up and feel good, I can't imagine what that would feel like," she said.
In a couple of months, she'll begin to learn. And in November, Brown is getting married. She said her fiance, Kyle Moore, has been wonderful.
"When I was on bedrest for two months, he came over every night and made me dinner," she said.
The Browns are already advocates of organ donation. Candace said 17 to 18 people die each day waiting on the list. She knows what has to happen in order for another to receive an organ.
"It's a horrible thing, but it can be turned into a miracle," she said. "Even though someone might not want my pancreas, I'm still an organ donor."
"We're just really going to start campaigning for organ donation," said Becky Brown, who while at the hospital has seen others benefit, as well.
"Organ donation is of extreme importance in our society. It is imperative that people think about what their personal decision to donate would be if they had a non-survivable injury - and to tell their family so that if the unthinkable should happen, their family knows what they would want," Dunn said. "Transplantation not only saves lives, it can help people get back to work and participate in routine activities that healthy people sometimes take for granted.
"Both transplant recipients and donor families have a chance to heal."
Candace Brown said in a year, she'll be able to contact the family of person who donated.
"I will write that letter," she said with certainty.
There's a simpler, happier, more delicious thing she's looking forward to - wedding cake without worries. The Blue Iris Cakery has heard of Brown's and Moore's situation and has offered to donate one.
"I want one slice of every flavor set aside for the bride," she said.