For much of her adult life, Shannon Lehman, who is now 39, lived in pain, constantly vomiting, but doctors in Fort Wayne could only tell her they could find nothing wrong with her.
They all thought she was crazy, said her mother, Debora Shipley.
It wasn’t until she went to the Indiana University Medical Center about eight years ago that someone came up with some answers.
Lehman had a mutant cystic fibrosis gene that caused food-digesting enzymes created in the pancreas to stay in the pancreas and consume that organ instead – resulting in pancreatitis and the debilitating pain that goes with it.
Since then, Lehman, who has been on disability and Medicaid for about 12 years, has lived on pain medication and taken nutrition through a feeding tube.
But there wasn’t a solution to her illness.
That is beginning to change.
At the Cleveland Clinic, they’ve developed a treatment that sounds baffling. Doctors will remove her pancreas, ship it to Pittsburgh, where doctors will remove insulin-producing cells that are healthy, then return the cells to Cleveland, where they will be implanted in Lehman’s liver.
And they’ll do it all in one day.
Lehman will be left without a pancreas, but the hope is that her liver will begin to produce some insulin. She will be insulin-dependent, her mother says, but she won’t need to take it more than once a day.
The surgery is supposed to happen in early May, but Lehman has had to make several visits to the Cleveland Clinic in preparation, and now she’s taking part in a chronic-pain-management clinic as an outpatient.
It does appear that things are finally falling into place for Lehman, but there’s one big, huge catch.
Lehman is on Medicaid in Indiana, but this treatment isn’t available in Indiana yet, and Indiana Medicaid won’t pay for procedures done in Ohio. The Medicaid program in Ohio, meanwhile, doesn’t pay to treat people from out of state.
So Huntertown United Methodist Church has teamed with the Huntertown and New Haven Lions Clubs to hold a fish fry and raffle at the church’s Third Place, at Lima and Cedar Canyon roads, to help pay for some of the initial expenses.
For example, Lehman is in Cleveland now at the pain clinic, but she is staying in a motel and has to pay all her own living expenses, something that is tough to do on disability income.
Shipley says the cost of the stay in Cleveland and treatment at the pain clinic will probably cost in the vicinity of $30,000. That’s the goal of the fish fry and raffle.
As for the surgery itself, Shipley suspects it will cost in the neighborhood of $300,000.
I couldn’t even think that far, Shipley said.
So for now, the focus is on the initial expenses.