Help Gretchen Heal

My sister Gretchen is in the early stages of recovery from having her pancreas removed.
I think it's appropriate to start this story by saying, Gretchen is and always has been one of the strongest, most determined and selfless people I have known in my life.  I'm confident anyone who knows her would agree without hesitation!
About six years ago, Gretchen started on this unexpected journey having no idea where it would lead her and not knowing the impact it would have on her life. She started to have frequent intolerable pain and nausea associated with acute pancreatitis.  Gretchen was refered to see a gastrointestinal specialist at Maine Medical Center. She had several diagnostic procedures over the course of a  few years to try and figure out the cause of what became chronic pain and nausea.  The medical team did everything possible to relieve her pain and continue to treat the symptoms, but were unable to stop the disease from progressing.   Unfortunatly, Gretchen had adapted to living in a constant state of discomfort, although you would never have known it because she stayed positive and never complained.  
After six years, the medical team, who had practically become family to Gretchen, had no choice, but to refer her to a surgical team at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire.  I will never forget the day when the doctor looked at my sister and told her there was nothing left he could do to treat or stop this aggresive disease from progressing.  There was only one option left to consider and it would involve an extensive and rare surgery.   A flood of emotions overwhelmed Gret and the entire family. In true fashion, Gretchen gave us no choice, but to follow her lead in being strong and positive leaving us with no doubt in our minds this option was meant to be and would be successful.
After her case was reviewed by a complex interdisciplinary surgical team, Gretchen was accepted and approved to have surgery on October 5, 2016.  The team at Dartmouth-Hitchcock discovered Gretchen was born with a gene, PRSS1.  It is a rare gene that predisposes the person to developing chronic pancreatitis as well as pancreatic cancer at a young age. Although, not good news, at least it was a known etiology as to why Gretchen has been battling pancreatitis since her early 30's.
In the months leading up to surgery, Gretchen made it a priority to spend a lot of time with her two young sons, husband, extended family and close friends.  Prior to surgery, Gretchen worked at the Paul School and served as a special education teacher.  Of course, it was top priority she make sure these kids were going to be well taken care during her medical leave. 
She was in surgery for 15-hours.  The doctors were amazed by her strength the entire day.  The last step was to remove islet cells from her pancreas and transplant them into her liver.  The goal of the transplant would be the cells continue to produce insulin in the liver and limit the amount of insulin she would need to take post surgery and reduce risk of becoming an insulin dependent diabetic.  Not only was her pancreas removed, but also part of the small intestine, a significant amount of her stomach and entire spleen.  
We all anxiously awaited the news of the surgery and were not surprised to hear it went as well as could be expected.  The doctors both said it was the worst case they had ever seen and didn't know how Gretchen had survived or tolerated living in what must have been a constant state of pain.  
Gretchen's post-op recovery has continued to validate our belief she is strong and amazing in a way no one else can even compare.  As all of us cautiously entered the hospital room not knowing what to expect, we would be pleasantly shocked by Gretchen's warm and entusiastic greeting of, "hey, how's it going?!   The doctors said repeatedly how impressive Gretchen is in every way.
Nine days after one of the most complex surgeries that exists today, Gret was discharged home.
She is now home and adjusting to her new normal.  Gretchen will rely on tube feeds for several weeks.  In addition, she is on several new medications, including insulin, while her body adjusts to a new way of funcioning.
It is wonderful to have Gretchen home and see her bright smile every time one of her boys walks into the room!  She has several months of recovery ahead and a lot of healing to do.  Gretchen will be out of work for at lease one year. As the medical expenses continue to grow and become far greater than what insurance will cover, the stress and burden on Gretchen and her husband are becoming overwhelming. 
We want to do everything possible to relieve this burden and ask for your help.  Gretchen has spent her entire life giving to others and making other peoples' lives better.  Now she needs the help of others to continue her healing without the stress of building medical expenses. If you are willing to donate and help Gret heal please donate.  We appreciate any donation or gesture to support Gretchen on this long journey!


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Organizer and beneficiary

Liz Smith 
Lowell, MA
Gretchen Russell 
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