13-year old Randy Lopez is a typical teenager in many ways, except one: He's been dealing with chronic pancreatitis for most of his young life.
"It started when he was two," Randy's mother, Holly Lopez, said. "His pancreas started having more and more flares."
Pancreatitis is a rare condition that makes eating painful and causes drastic weight loss. In Lopez's case, it was genetic. Over the years it got progressively worse.
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"Anything really to stop the pain," Lopez said. "Sometimes you don't know if there's ever an end. Life in a cage where you'll never be set free."
On December 12, freedom came in the form of a rare surgery. Dr. Ernest Beecherl removed Lopez's pancreas, then took islet cells, which produce insulin, from his pancreas and transplanted them into his liver.
The surgery is rare. Baylor University Medical Center performs it on fewer than 20 patients a year. Lopez is the youngest to undergo the procedure.
"This is a little bit different and it's also an auto-transplantation where you're giving the patient their own tissue back," Dr. Beecherl explained. "It can take a totally debilitated (patient)...and get them back assimilated into life."
In practical terms, it's life-changing.
"He pretty much saved his life, because depression was majorly setting in," Holly said.
"I thought I would go through this pain for my entire life," Lopez said. "From before the surgery and after, I became more happier and sometimes I don't even notice that my pancreas isn't there."
Lopez, his mother, and sister were living at the Ronald McDonald House in Dallas for the last month. On Friday afternoon, they were packing to go home to the Austin area.
"You're an awesome guy," Lopez said of Dr. Beecherl. "Thank you so much for what you've done."
There are side effects to the surgery. It will likely make Lopez a diabetic, but Dr. Beecherl says it is a manageable condition with a normal life expectancy.