On September 19, 2016, Stacey Berkman received the gift of life, undergoing a not-so-common kidney-pancreas transplant. But her journey to get there was an arduous one.

Everyone has a unique story to what leads them to a transplant, and Stacey’s story started when she was first diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 9. It wasn’t until her early 30s that her kidneys started showing signs of failure due to the diabetes.

Because of the kidney failure, doctors advised her that a kidney transplant would be an eventuality. What she didn’t expect was that her endocrinologist would suggest she have a pancreas transplant as well.

Know your options

Up till that point, Stacey and her family never knew replacing her pancreas—and ultimately curing her diabetes—was even an option. When they started inquiring at local hospitals in her home state of Connecticut, doctors were immediately against performing the double transplant.

Over the course of a year, Stacey visited eight different transplant centers across the country. “It was a confusing journey because there wasn’t one clear-cut way to go,” she explains. “Most of the doctors and surgeons she met advocated against the kidney-pancreas double transplant because there wasn’t enough research, outcomes were bad, and it was too risky.”

“Wisconsin was the last place I went and was the only place I felt 100 percent comfortable,” Stacey says. “There are always risks, but the confidence from the doctors and the program gave me the peace of mind to know this was the right choice for me.”

Find your team

Ultimately, doctors and nurses at UW Health in Madison, WI, became like a second family to Stacey and her husband. More than a year-and-a-half after the successful double transplant, Stacey still keeps in touch with her team at UW Health on a weekly basis. She also goes back regularly for check-ups. “It feels like I’m going home, back to my family when I go to Wisconsin,” she says.

For anyone who is awaiting a transplant, or has a loved one in the same position, Stacey has some advice: “The journey is not the same for everyone and neither is your experience after the transplant. Don’t give up and don’t lose hope. It’s easy to get discouraged. I’ve been there and I can tell you that it gets better.”