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Evansville resident part of hospital milestone he calls: “Operation KP 1000”

IU Health University Hospital

Evansville resident part of hospital milestone he calls: “Operation KP 1000”

He didn’t know it when he arrived but John Hufstedler is making history. The 1000th pancreas was transplanted at IU Health University Hospital and Hufstedler was the recipient.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

His girlfriend of 13 years, Missy Johnson says John Hufstedler is modest. He doesn’t like to talk about his professional accomplishments and he’s reserved when it comes to describing his athletic achievements.

So it’s of little surprise that Hufstedler was unaware that his new pancreas was the 1,000th one transplanted at IU Health University Hospital on Jan. 29. Under the care of Dr. Jonathan Fridell, Chief of Abdominal Transplantation at IU Health and Pancreas Transplant Surgical Director the 49-year-old Evansville resident received both a pancreas and kidney.

“I learned about the number after surgery,” said Hufstedler. “How does that make me feel? It makes me feel confident. A place that’s done that many surgeries of any kind knows what they’re doing.”

The majority of those surgeries involved a combination – kidney/pancreas transplant for patients with diabetic nephropathy or a pancreas transplant alone for patients with severe diabetic complications. Other surgeries were completed with a liver or combinations of stomach, liver and intestines as part of a multivisceral transplant. The IU Health Transplant Program is credited with transplanting an average of 500 organs annually. It is ranked as one of the top transplant programs in the nation. The first lung/pancreas transplant in the world was performed at IU Health.

When Hufstedler was listed for transplant in November, he came to IU Health for his work-up and patient care. Everything happened quickly after that he said.

A native of Eldorado, Ill, - located in the southern portion of the state, Hufstedler was one of three boys. He likes to say he has two older brothers because his fraternal twin entered the world first. He also has a younger brother. He grew up participating in sports – mainly football and basketball – and also holds three black belts in karate. After high school he obtained an undergraduate degree in social work from Southern Illinois University and later a Master of Social Work from the University of Southern Indiana.

He’s spent most of his career at Cross Point – Deaconess Hospital working with psychiatric patients. It was after work one evening in August 2018 that he came home and began vomiting blood.

“Up to this point, he never got sick and would rarely go to the doctor,” said Johnson. On this night he ended up in the emergency room. Initially doctors thought he had the flu. But within a short time, he was intubated in a medical-induced coma that continued for 36 hours.

“When they woke me up they told me I had blood in my lungs from vasculitis,” said Hufstedler. The condition is an inflammation of blood vessels that can be caused by infection, medicine, or disease. At the age of 25 Hufstedler was diagnosed with Type II diabetes. He believes the condition was caused by medicines for high blood pressure and his diabetes. It was slowly shutting down his organs.

After about 17 days he was discharged from the hospital and was home for two weeks when he began to feel pain in his left arm. He returned to the hospital and was treated for sepsis.

“At that point the kidneys really took a hit and never recovered,” said Huftstedler. Doctors started dialysis at his local hospital. His condition was stabilized but weeks later he was back in the hospital. Knowing that his kidneys were shutting down Hufstedler scheduled an appointment with Dr. Tim Taber, IU Health Kidney and Pancreas Transplant Medical Director and a nephrologist who conducts clinics in Evansville.

In November 2019 he was listed for a kidney-pancreas transplant, a procedure he now refers to as “Operation KP 1000.”

On Tuesday, Jan. 28 Hufstedler and Johnson drove to Indianapolis, knowing that there was a good chance he would be transplanted. By about 7 p.m. he was taken into the operating room for a surgery that continued into the next morning.

Dr. Fridell said the surgery went smoothly and Hufstedler is on track for full recovery. As he talked to Hufstedler about his discharge – just six days after surgery - Dr. Fridell said, “I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve been able to help so many people with our transplant program.”

An avid fisherman, Hufstedler said he is ready to get back to the outdoors – hiking, traveling, and enjoying sports.

“Before transplant, I was scared. I was scared of the unknown. I didn’t know anyone who had a transplant but I felt mentally strong – that I would get through this and be well again,” said Hufstedler. “I am grateful to Dr. Fridell. He did an amazing job of preparing us and the care has been amazing.”

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