Nov 4, 2013 7:47 PM by Samantha Ptashkin

Leave of absence has UAMC patient wondering who to turn to for care

TUCSON-Renee Giardina was diagnosed with pancreatitis 30 years ago. For years she lived with on and off pain, but three years ago it became too much to handle.

"I was really sick," Giardina says. "I needed to do something about it, I was living in pain day to day."

She turned to UAMC, where she met Dr. Rainer Gruessner, who heads the UA Department of Surgery. A few years ago Gruessner started the Auto Islet Cell Transplant Program at UAMC. Surgeons remove the pancreas, then put the patient's insulin-producing pancreatic islet cells back into the patient's liver. Since the program started it has helped treat nearly 70 patients.

Giardina is one of those patients. She had her surgery in January 2010. "It has changed my life tremendously," Giardina says. "I don't have to worry about the pancreatitis and I don't have to worry about getting pancreatic cancer."

She had monthly checkups within the first year and now Giardina has annual checkups.

But last week, about a month after Dr. Gruessner took an unexplained leave of absence, Giardina received a letter in the mail, saying the program "cannot remain active".

"I'm just wondering why? This program has helped so many people," Giardina says.

UAMC won't give a reason for Dr. Gruessner's leave. Spokesperson Katie Riley issued this statement to News 4 Tucson: "We are committed to offering a full spectrum of
transplantation services at UAMC. We have invested heavily in making the Islet Cell Transplant program the best it can be, and it's our responsibility to provide all our transplant patients with top-notch clinical care. It's also our responsibility to take appropriate action when any change occurs that doesn't allow us to meet that standard."

Riley also says UAMC will continue providing follow up appointments over at least the next 90 days for about 16 patients who had their surgeries within the last year.

For patients like Giardina, who are more than a year post-transplant, Riley says UAMC will help find them a local doctor to do their check-ups. But that answer isn't sitting well with Giardina. "I'm concerned about what happens with my follow up now," Giardina says. "What if something happens to me? Where do I go? Who do I see? I've already seen the top of the top doctors."

News 4 Tucson tried contacting Dr. Gruessner several times by visiting his home and calling his home phone number, but never heard from him.


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