Man was transplant pioneer

Dylan Thomas

Richard Lindberg, whose University-performed pancreas transplant helped prove the procedure could work for older patients, died Jan. 17 from complications of heart disease. He was 69.

Lindberg was 59 when he received the transplant in 1992 to treat severe diabetes, and he was believed to be the oldest person to have undergone the procedure.

The University surgeon who performed the transplant, Dr. David Sutherland, said Lindberg “was very proud” to have opened the door for older patients to undergo the procedure. Since then, approximately one dozen people over 60 years of age have received pancreas transplants at the University, one as old as 66, Sutherland said.

Lindberg, who lived with his wife Joelle in Vadnais Heights, often recommended Sutherland to others in need of pancreas transplants because of severe diabetes.

Beth Vogl, his daughter, said Lindberg believed Sutherland “was a wonderful doctor and did a lot for him, so hopefully he could do something for somebody else, too.”

Living with diabetes since he was 28, Lindberg’s condition had become so serious before the transplant that he would have seizures at night.

Sutherland said by the time the Lindbergs saw him, Joelle told him she had not slept well in three years. Both of them appeared exhausted to Sutherland.

Despite the risks the operation posed for someone his age, Lindberg decided he would rather undergo the procedure than to keep living under the burden of his condition.

At the time, University doctors had performed approximately 500 pancreas transplants, possibly 10 percent of all those procedures performed at the time, Sutherland said. It was the largest pancreas transplant program in the world and had conducted the first such procedure in 1966.

In the years after his transplant, Lindberg had to cope with various other health problems, but his love of travel kept him motivated to stay healthy, Vogl said.

“Whenever he wasn’t sick or in the hospital Ö we were planning some type of vacation for when he was better,” Vogl said.

Vogl said her father even got to go on his “dream vacation,” a two-week trip to the Panama Canal. He also traveled to Hawaii, went on cruises and visited Disney World with his family several times.

Besides his wife and daughter, Lindberg is survived by a son, Scott, and brother, Arnold.

Dylan Thomas welcomes comments at [email protected]