13-year-old boy is 1st young patient in SoCal to receive complex surgery to cure pancreatitis

Denise Dador Image
Friday, May 17, 2024
Local teen is 1st to receive complex surgery to cure pancreatitis
A 13-year-old La Crescenta boy became the first young patient in SoCal to receive a groundbreaking, complex surgery to cure his recurring pancreatitis.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas that can eventually lead to the organ's failure. It's rare in children, but treatment options are few. For local families, a chance at a cure would mean long months away from home. Now, a La Crescenta teen has become the first young patient to receive a potential surgical cure here in Southern California.

Debilitating abdominal pain is something 13-year-old Elliot Yi knows too well. It started when he was 9.

"Basically, I couldn't walk. My dad had to really carry me," he said.

"We're going to the hospital and he said I think I'm OK, but I told him you haven't eaten or drank in three days," said Joseph Yi, Elliott's dad.

Blood tests revealed acute pancreatitis. But Elliot would end up in the emergency room every month for two years. Genetic tests finally revealed the cause.

"He has one specific genetic mutation that makes him prone to recurrent pancreatitis," said CHLA's Pancreas Program Director Dr. Yuhua Zheng.

Severe inflammation was destroying Elliot's pancreas. The organ's islet cells regulate blood sugar. Doctors said Elliot's best hope was a Total Pancreatectomy and Autologous Islet Cell Transplant or TPIAT. In this complicated procedure, the pancreas is removed and the liver is transformed to take on islet cell production.

"You also need to take out the spleen and you need to take out the gallbladder," she said.

Few pediatric hospitals offer this complex surgery - none in Southern California until Zheng, and transplant surgeon Dr. Yuri Genyk and other CHLA specialists took on the challenge.

Elliot was their first patient. The surgery took 14 hours.

Once doctors removed Elliot's pancreas, they broke it down, extracted the islet cells, brought it to an outside facility where it was processed. Then, they transported it back to CHLA, where doctors transplanted the islet cells into Elliot's liver.

"Hopefully, those cells can survive a new environment in the liver and continue to produce insulin," said Zheng.

Just days after the surgery, Elliot is recovering well..

"Our body is amazing, you know, a liver producing insulin? Pretty cool," said Judy Yi, Elliott's mom.

The Yis are grateful the surgery is available close to home. Elliot is now looking forward to catching up on everything he's missed.

"Definitely want to travel more and hang out more with my friends," he said.