Help Jessi Barton finally live pain free
To help defray some of the enormous costs of Jessi Barton’s pancreas transplant, go to To help defray some of the enormous costs of Jessi Barton’s pancreas transplant, go to http://www.gofundme.com/givejessialife.
There is also a benefit account at Colorado Business Bank.
There is also a benefit account at Colorado Business Bank.
EAGLE COUNTY — If Jessi Barton doesn’t have surgery soon, pancreatic cancer will kill her.
So she’s having it this month. She and her mother, Trish, will leave Mother’s Day to travel to Minnesota where Jessi will become one of a few hundred people to have a surgical procedure with a long and complicated name — a total pancreatectomy with an islet auto transplant.
The name is complicated; the results are not. She gets to live, and live normally.
Jessi, 27, has been in constant pain since she was 12. A dog, off leash, knocked her over while she was playing Frisbee at a company picnic. She landed on her back, on large jagged rocks, was knocked unconscious and bruised nerves in her spine.
Her parents, Trish and Doug, rushed her to the hospital where they were told she had a concussion and that she’d be fine.
But she was not fine.
Three months later, she was in so much pain that she could do nothing but lie on her side in the fetal position like a wounded animal.
Back at the hospital, doctors pushed a small camera down her throat — the first of dozens of times — to look at her from the inside, which is how we know her heart is pure.
They found nothing. She developed pancreatitis anyway from that bruised nerve in the T9 vertebrae of her spine.
What is happening to her
Her digestive enzymes are digesting her pancreas from the inside out.
Unless she gets a transplant, she can’t have children and she won’t live much longer.
The surgery is scheduled for May 15. Doctors will take out her pancreas, spleen, part of her stomach and part of her lower intestines.
The diseased pancreas, the one that has forced her to live in constant pain since she was a pre-teen, is essentially put in a blender.
“I like that. I won’t lie,” Jessi said smiling.
They’ll spin out the insulin producing cells and inject them into her liver, where they’ll make a happy home. That will take about six weeks. She’ll be on a feeding tube and insulin therapy during that time.
Rare but successful surgery
Only 550 of these surgeries have been done since 1977, when it was pioneered at the University of Minnesota. Acting legend Peter O’Toole had one of the first. He lived to be 81 years old.
A local woman had it done four months ago. She’s 24 and is doing great.
If Jessi’s surgery is successful, then all her pain goes away and she has no chance of developing pancreatic cancer.
She’s not diabetic and that’s what makes her such a good candidate for a transplant.
In constant pain
When she isn’t having pancreatitis attack, she has a dull ache. And that explains how she became addicted to pain medications.
“You can die from the pain of a pancreatitis attack if you don’t get it under control. You can’t sit, you can’t lay down, you can’t breathe,” Jessi said.
She overdosed three times in different hospitals on pain meds she was given. One time she was found on the floor by the hospital chaplain. The irony is not lost on her that medical professionals almost killed her, and she was found by a spiritual counselor responsible for making sure she was ready to go to heaven.
“It took eight years to figure what was going on, what caused it. Another seven to eight years to figure out what to do about it,” Trish said. “We don’t want anyone else to spend 15 years feeling all alone.”
Pain med addiction
In 2006, Jessi was hospitalized six times. That soared to 13 times in 2007 — never less than a week — and 12 times in 2008. That’s the year she went to the Mayo Clinic. Those doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her either, except this …
“I was in so much pain I became heavily addicted to pain meds,” Jessi said. “I was on dying-cancer-patient levels of pain meds.”
As her pain tolerance went down, her drug tolerance went up. Doctors and hospitals started denying her pain meds, suspicious she was trying to scam them.
There was the time her parents checked her out of one hospital after an attack and she had another about 5 miles away, on their way out of Denver. Doug and Trish rushed her to the nearest hospital, but Doug said doctors at that hospital were slow to help, fearing they were being scammed.
“You can’t go anywhere without knowing where a hospital is. You can’t leave the house without a bag because you might be spending four to eight days in the hospital,” Doug said.
Jessi carries three massive three-ring binders outlining everything. When she’s having an attack, she’s in too much pain to explain it all.
Finally, in 2009, Dr. Jonathan Rossman helped her sever her dependency on those pain meds. It took a week and a few doses of Suboxone. Rossman was the only doctor in this part of the country who could prescribe it, and he lives in Avon.
In 2010-11, doctors said she’d grow out of it and it looked like she was going to.
Then it came back.
Graduate with honors
Through it all she stayed in school, but was in so much pain she couldn’t sit through classes. Doug and Trish would take her in early to get her assignments. She’d do the work and take it back the next morning, with any questions she might have. She’s a bright kid, and there were always questions.
She did about 60 percent of her high school work in bed, on pain meds. She graduated from Eagle Valley High School in 2006, on time and with a 3.86 GPA.
She was offered a full ride college scholarship to Hawaii to study marine biology, but couldn’t take it because she suffers from pancreatitis and can’t be that far from a hospital.
Jessi could be on the state’s disability list, but she chooses not to.
“Working gets me out of the house and keeps my mind engaged,” she said.
She worked at a local bank, and now she’s a bookkeeper for MT Imports, a local company.
“There are people who have this condition and they don’t know what to do. If someone wants to talk to me about it, I’m more than happy,” Jessi said. “We need people to know that this is available.”
She says she’s a little like Lemony Snicket.
“It’s a series of unfortunate events,” Jessi said.
After next week, though, those events will be over.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and email@example.com.
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