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Eagle River man is the first Alaskan to receive living donor liver transplant

Updated: Jun. 20, 2021 at 3:20 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - When most people sign up to become organ donors, they’re making a decision that will save lives after their death. A Virginia man was able to give his uncle a piece of his liver while still alive. It’s a fairly new procedure, and Tim Seafler of Eagle River is the first Alaskan to receive it.

Seafler and his nephew Doug Post live on opposite ends of the country, but this life-saving procedure for Seafler brought them together. Seafler received the transplant after battling nonalcoholic fatty liver disease since about 2014.

“I had lack of energy, and my biggest problem I had was focus,” said Seafler. “The liver cleans your blood, and with ammonia and things like that, if it doesn’t get filtered, it messes with your ability to focus and energy level.”

Both of their lives were put on hold about three months ago to fly to the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle for the rare procedure.

Dr. Mark Sturdevant is the program head for the live donor liver transplant program and the surgical director of liver transplantation for UW Medicine. He said this procedure is possible because the liver has a unique ability to regenerate.

“If we are going to do a living donation, we always have to do some calculations based on the imaging that whatever we take from the donor, that they are left with at least 30 percent of their liver,” Sturdevant said, “And we know from experience that if we do that, that they can safely regenerate back to about a 90% size of what they started with, and the vast majority of that is done within 3 to 4 weeks.”

The current wait for someone like Seafler to get a transplant from a donor who has died could be anywhere from six months to several years. It’s especially tough for Alaskans as there’s currently no place in the state that performs liver transplants.

“That’s really troubling to most people because they just have to live in this state of really not having much control of their life, and they don’t really know when they would potentially be called in for a liver, which is even harder for folks in Alaska where they have to come from so far away,” Sturdevant said. “It’s really quite challenging to be in that situation.”

Seafler said in his case, he could feel the difference right away.

“My focus was back. I actually felt like I had energy. I got up pretty quickly and started walking, but that kind of slowed down when the pain meds went away, but I could tell right away,” he said.

He has his nephew Doug Post to thank for that.

Post and his mother Trisha, who is Seafler’s sister, both were tested to be potential donors.

“For Doug and my sister Trisha to take it upon themselves to look into that, I don’t know how you thank somebody to repay them for that. All you can do is remember them for what they’ve done. I think about that all the time,” Seafler said.

It’s what he’s thinking about when he’s getting back to the activities he loves most.

“Even camping, or going hunting, it cut into that. I couldn’t risk being away from the hospital, and now all those things are gone,” Seafler said. “So it’s great. It’s like you have your life back. Well you do, that’s the fact. You have your life back.”

Including Seafler, UW Medicine surgeons have so far performed 13 living donor liver transplants.

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