Brandon Carlock received life-saving kidney and pancreas transplant surgery at UTMB.

Receiving the gift of a kidney and pancreas transplant was a lifesaving miracle for Brandon Carlock. Only 34 years old, he was facing a lifetime of dialysis and insulin injections without a transplant, and little hope of keeping a job and creating an independent life for himself.

What makes his story even more remarkable is that within hours of being listed on the national organ transplant wait list, Carlock got the call he had been waiting for from UTMB’s Texas Transplant Center. He soon was whisked into the OR at UTMB’s John Sealy Hospital to receive a simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplant.

Today this young man, who enjoys fishing and describes himself as a country boy, has a bright future ahead.

Carlock, who lives in Texas City with his father, step-mother and sister, all disabled, had been giving himself insulin injections since the age of 7, when he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. About 18 months ago, doctors told him his kidneys were shutting down.

His condition required dialysis treatments three times a week. “That wasn’t a good time in my life,’’ he said, explaining it was hard to find or keep a job while having to go through so many time-intensive treatments.

‘Keep your phone charged’

All the while, he was hoping to get on the national transplant wait list. “It was a really scary time,’’ he said. “I was always wondering when it was going to be my turn.’’

In early September 2011, a member of the UTMB Renal Transplant Team called Carlock and told him to keep his phone charged and to be ready for a call any minute. He wasn’t officially on the list, but the time was coming.

On Sept. 17, UTMB Renal Transplant Coordinator Bertha Garcia called to notify Carlock that he had been placed on the transplant wait list. Just five and a half hours later, he got another call that there was a potential donor and was told to get to the hospital right away for blood work.

Esther Guerra, UTMB patient services specialist at the Multispecialty Center; Nicarita Stateresa-Stiffin, a UTMB transplant inpatient coordinator; transplant patient Brandon Carlock; and Judy Boughton, UTMB renal transplant coordinator at the Texas Transplant Center at UTMB's Multispecialty Center and Stark Diabetes Clinic in League City.

After his blood was drawn, “I went home, and then she called me again and said everything was a go,’’ Carlock said. “I said, ‘Oh my God.’ I was so scared.’’   

Insulin-free and off dialysis

About 1 a.m. the next day, Carlock was wheeled into surgery at UTMB’s Texas Transplant Center. Dr. Kristene Gugliuzza, the surgeon who performed the transplant, told him “the organs were made for me,’’ Carlock said. Since being discharged from the hospital, he has had smooth sailing.  “My (lab work) is almost perfect every time I come in,’’ he said with pride. “That’s a really good feeling.’’

For privacy reasons, Carlock doesn’t know many details about the donor. Carlock doubts he will ever meet the donor’s family, but he plans to send them a thank you note through the transplant program. He’s just not quite sure what to say.

“How do you tell somebody, “Thank you for saving my life?’’’ he asked.

Although he will need to take anti-rejection medications to protect his new organs for the rest of his life, it’s better than insulin injections. “I’d been dealing with needles ever since I was 7. I hate needles.”

All of the UTMB health care professionals who have worked with Carlock have been “great,’’ he said. “Everybody has been super nice.’’

Organ transplantation has a long history at UTMB, said Dr. Luca Cicalese, director of the Texas Transplant Center. The first kidney transplantation program in the Houston/Galveston area was established here in 1967.  Pancreatic transplant, as a definitive cure for diabetes, has also been performed at UTMB since 1988.

Overall, surgeons at UTMB’s Texas Transplant Center have performed more than 3,000 transplants with excellent results, in large part due to the exceptional multidisciplinary teams that include physicians, nurses and staff who specialize in various aspects of transplantation.

Brandon Carlock gives Nicarita Stateresa-Stiffin, a UTMB transplant inpatient coordinator, a hug outside the Multispecialty Center and Stark Diabetes Clinic in League City.

“We are proud to be in Galveston and to lead in this field in the Houston/Galveston area,’’ Cicalese said.

“Our Texas Transplant Center currently offers kidney, pancreas, pancreatic islets (insulin-producing cells), liver, lung, heart and LVAD (artificial heart) transplants and is planning to start intestinal transplantation next year.”

Nicarita Stateresa-Stiffin, a transplant inpatient coordinator at UTMB, said Carlock was extremely lucky to be on the transplant list and to receive an organ within hours.

“For Mr. Carlock, all the pieces fell in place since available organs have to match the patient’s blood,” she said. The waiting time for kidney-pancreas transplant is among the shortest in the nation at UTMB’s program, she added.

Stateresa-Stiffin has worked with Carlock during his recovery, counseling him on how to make the most of his opportunities, now that he is healthy enough to be off insulin and free of dialysis.

Becoming independent

Judy Boughton, another UTMB renal transplant coordinator who sees Carlock frequently during his follow-up visits at the Texas Transplant Center at UTMB’s Multispecialty Center and Stark Diabetes Clinic in League City, has a unique connection to her patients. She received a living-donor kidney transplant at UTMB 28 years ago herself. “See, you have at least another 28 years!’’ she told Carlock during a recent follow-up visit.

“I think I probably have more of an idea of what they’re going through,’’ Boughton said, referring to her transplant patients. “They feel like I can understand, since I’ve been through it myself.’’

Now that he can look forward to his future, Carlock is considering becoming a dialysis technician - something he can really relate to - or possibly getting a job in computers or electronics.

“He’s working toward his goal of becoming independent,’’ Stateresa-Stiffin said. “He knows the purpose of the transplant is to give him back his life…that he has a responsibility to the donor to use this gift for a bright future. I’m confident he will.’’