LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It's a vicious disease that causes inflammation of the pancreas, leading to constant pain, and even diabetes.

"It feels like your ribs are being crushed and ripped out," said George Hatfield.

Hatfield knows Pancreatitis all too well. He was diagnosed with the disease eight years ago in Tennessee. After dozens of trips to the hospital and failed pain medications, Hatfield's biggest fear became a reality.

"The doctor had no more cure for me. There was nothing they could do. I was looking at passing away and planning my funeral," Hatfield explained.

Determined to exhaust all options, Hatfield moved to Kentucky.

"I got here and everything just fell into place," said Hatfield.

Doctors and researchers from Jewish Hospital and U of L are working together to do what only few in the world can right now. The program is funded by an $800,000 grant from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence. They're performing what's called Islet Cell Auto-transplantations.

Here's how it works:

Your pancreas creates insulin, among other things. When not working properly, it can become inflamed. Surgeons would simply remove it, but then that would often lead to diabetes. This alternative procedure takes it a step further, separating the islet cells from the pancreas. Those cells are treated in a facility and then placed back in the body via the patient's liver.

Hatfield said it was this procedure that saved his life.

Doctor Michael Hughes performed this procedure on five other patients this year, and each one is now free of disease.

"Physicians do what they can and sometimes run out of options. So then they don't quite know what to do with the patient. That's the point of time that we need to be seeing them," Dr. Hughes explained.

Also grateful for the program is Hatfield's wife, who's been by his side since day one.

"Without these guys here, I wouldn't have my husband. My kids wouldn't have their dad," she said.

It's been about six months since the surgery, and Hatfield said he's feeling better than ever.

"Can't thank them enough. I get a second chance at life to be with my family and my kids."

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