• By Dana Sparks

Sharing Mayo Clinic: Coach gets big win with kidney-pancreas transplant

April 1, 2018

Coach Bell Brian smiling after transplantBrian Bell lived with Type 1 diabetes for more than 20 years, until a combination kidney-pancreas transplant offered a chance to rid him of the disease. Now he's making the most of his fresh start.

It was out of character for 11-year-old Brian Bell to not enjoy his grandmother's famous gumbo on Mother's Day 1991.

"That wasn't normal. Mother's Day is a big deal in Southeast Texas," Brian says. "She had the whole spread there, and I couldn't eat or drink anything. I just threw up all night."

A trip to the hospital the next day resulted in a diagnosis for Brian that would put his "normal" on hold for 25 years. The news was bleak for a young kid. Brian had Type 1 diabetes that required four insulin shots a day.

The diagnosis landed Brian on a winding medical path that, over time, led through the upper Midwest and then back to the desert Southwest. Eventually, a combined kidney and pancreas transplant in 2016 at Mayo Clinic's Arizona campus allowed Brian to leave those shots behind and look forward to a healthier future.

Coping with chronic disease

Growing up with diabetes and injecting himself with medication each day greatly affected Brian's formative years, right down to the simple things kids do, like staying overnight at a friend's house. His mom would say no, and now Brian gets it. A simple sleepover could have put his health at risk.

"My buddies would have fed me Gatorade and pizza. And candy," Brian says. "I mean, I would have eaten all of it."

Another disappointment for Brian was not being able to play middle school football because he was losing weight too rapidly, barely able to hold at 115 pounds. But, in time, Brian was able to keep his diabetes in check — even going on to play his favorite sport.

Brian attended Bemidji State University in Minnesota, where he excelled in football and made great friends. Being a kid from Texas, he wasn't prepared for the cold weather, joking, "Bemidji is in Canada, right?" But frigid weather didn't scare Brian away from the Midwest. After finishing college, he attended graduate school in Madison, South Dakota, and landed a teaching and coaching job at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where he had once played football.

"I can't thank the doctors enough at Mayo. They are first class, the way they treat you." — Brian Bell

Then a surprise call came from Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota, asking Brian to join the Minnesota State Mavericks. He eagerly took the job and coached football in Mankato for eight years, where the last four years resulted in big wins for the team and a trip to the Division II National Championship in 2014.

It was in Mankato where Brian first learned about Mayo Clinic and began receiving care through Mayo Clinic Health System. In 2012, Brian's condition took a turn for the worse when he learned that, due to diabetes, he had developed kidney disease.

His physician didn't mince words. Brian recalls being told, "This thing is like a snowball, the way your kidneys are reacting. We could slow the disease down, but you can't stop it. Eventually, you are going to need a kidney transplant."

At that point, Brian recalls that total denial kicked in. "Nope, not me, not this guy," he told himself. Read the rest of Brian's story.

This article originally appeared on the Sharing Mayo Clinic blog.