MARQUETTE — One phone call has changed Nikki Larson's life forever.
After years of health concerns, the Marquette resident answered a call from the Mayo Clinic that started her journey toward a life-saving transplant.
Nikki Larson’s battle with Type 1 Diabetes and insulin injections started when she was eight-years-old. Over the years, she did her best to keep track of sugar levels.
"My mom measured out all my meals and made sure I didn't miss any blood sugars and I had lots of injections. I wasn't on an insulin pump at that time so all mine were vial and syringe injections. You don't get lots of sweets obviously, so at birthday parties you could have a small piece of cake and stuff like that," Nikki Larson explained.
In 2013, Nikki Larson’s health was so poor that her husband, Tim, first called Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
The Larsons are known in Marquette for owning The Ranch House from March 2014 to September 2017. They originally closed the restaurant to make some upgrades, but when Nikki Larson’s health worsened, the pair decided to sell the business.
On Oct. 22 this year, the Larsons’ first received word about a possible organ match.
"I remember when Nikki called and told me (Mayo Clinic) called her. I was going to plant wheat and I had just filled my Yeti coffee cup plum full of coffee and I got to the four-way stop in Marquette. She was yelling at the phone before I picked up, ‘You have to answer this do not ignore this phone call.’ I’m like, ‘What.’ And she goes, ‘They have a pancreas.’ I remember I was sitting there I had my cup of coffee in my hand and I dropped it. I always thought that stuff happened in the movies and I remember watching all my coffee run off the floor board,” Tim Larson laughed.
That same day, the Larsons said goodbye to their 5-year-old daughter Rylee, packed their things and traveled to Rochester, Minnesota.
The odds were not in the Larsons’ favor — there was a 50-50 chance the pancreas wasn’t a match.
“They were still working to make sure everything was a match. But because I lived so far away, they had us already start driving, we really didn’t hear it was a total match until we were about an hour away,” Nikki Larson said. “All the blood tests and tissue types had come back great, but they said they didn’t have a visual of the organ and if it doesn’t look up to their standards, then they won’t use it. It’s such a big thing that I’m not going to wait around until they say its OK, so we took the chance and drove.”
At 10:45 p.m. on Oct. 22, the Larsons arrived at Mayo Clinic and prepared for Nikki Larson’s surgery, scheduled for the next morning.
Her surgery lasted around six hours total and Nikki Larson said she doesn’t remember much from the surgery, but remembers the new pancreas making her very ill.
“When we went back to the recovery room she really wasn’t awake yet but when she finally woke up she sat straight up and started vomiting. She didn’t slow down until 9 p.m. that night,” Tim Larson noted.
After days of being ill, she was finally released on Nov. 7 to the Gift of Life Transplant House, where patients stay a couple blocks away from the hospital for recovery until they are allowed to go home.
Set-back or blessing
A few days later, Nikki Larson was back in the hospital once again.
“I was back in Nov. 9 and I couldn’t stop throwing up. They had to put a nasal gastric tube in for my bowl obstruction and tried to get everything out because nothing could move through. During that time I had thrown up so much I threw up blood so then they did a scope and found a tear,” Nikki Larson said.
After trying the tube and scope, doctors finally examined her with an X-ray and Tim Larson described being very ill could have been their blessing in disguise.
“They took her down and thought that maybe she had an infection or leakage where they connected the intestine to the pancreas and they actually found a blood clot was in the artery to the pancreas and that’s what usually causes them to reject,” Tim Larson noted. “They said they didn’t know if this happens at this stage or more often, but they only usually X-ray unless theres a big fluctuation of blood sugars and the only reason they caught this one was because she was so sick.”
Back at home
On Nov. 10, things were looking up for Nikki Larson as she finally got to see her daughter Rylee for the first time since they left and spent Thanksgiving together in Minnesota.
Finally on Dec. 5, the Larsons were able to make an emotional surprise trip home.
“Rylee didn’t know and it was amazing. Just the smile on her face I think for like a week she kept saying, ‘I didn’t think you’d make it home to see my Christmas program and I never thought we’d have a Christmas together.’ It was amazing,” Nikki Larson said.
The holidays were a special one this year for the family as this journey has given Nikki and Tim Larson a new outlook on life.
“It was special. We were unsure if I would be here or not. The doctors were saying we’ll try to get you out of here by Christmas and we weren’t completely expecting to come home as early as we did, but it was pretty awesome,” Nikki Larson said.
Contact Brooke Haas by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @ MacSentinel.