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Local child gets life-saving liver transplant

Charlie Beckstrom, 1, takes his anti-rejection medicine from his mother Sarah on Sunday afternoon at their home in Mitchell. The medication helps so his body doesn’t reject his transplanted liver. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)1 / 4
Charlie Beckstrom, 1, gives his mother Sarah a drink of water by sticking his hand in the glass and then into her mouth Sunday afternoon at their home in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic) 2 / 4
Charlie Beckstrom, 1, feeds his father Carl part of an apple while his mother Sarah waits to give Charlie the rest of his medication Sunday afternoon at their home in Mitchell. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)3 / 4
Charlie Beckstrom, 1, eats part of an apple as his mother Sarah waits to give him his anti-rejection medicine orally with a syringe Sunday afternoon at their home in Mitchell. The medication helps so his body doesn’t reject his transplanted liver. (Sean Ryan/The Daily Republic)4 / 4

On June 5, the Beckstrom family got the call.

Charlie Beckstrom, not yet 1 year old, had a chance to get a new liver.

Sarah, Charlie's mother, recalls the doctor calling the morning of June 5 to say there was a liver available, but Charlie was second in line behind a 2-month-old in Chicago. It was a “10 percent chance,” but still a chance, and they should get prepared to possibly leave for Minneapolis if the transplant center called back later that evening, the doctor said.

“That time came and went. We were still waiting and waiting,” Sarah said.

Around 10 p.m., the transplant center called back and said Charlie would not get the liver.

In September 2012, Charlie had been diagnosed with Alpha 1 Antitrypsin Deficiency, a condition in which the body does not make enough of a protein that protects the lungs and liver from damage. The condition destroyed Charlie’s liver and he needed a new one to live.

The June call was the second time a liver seemed to slip from the family's grasp. Two weeks before, the Beckstroms were called to Minneapolis to receive a liver, but Charlie was unable to have surgery because of a high fever.

“We got the first one out of the way, and got all the flaws out of the system,” said Charlie’s father, Carl.

Carl had been at work when the June 5 rejection call came at 10 p.m. The disappointment turned out to be short-lived.

“I had just walked in the door around 10:50, 11 p.m. and we kind of looked at each other,” Carl said. “At that moment, the phone rang.”

It was the family’s transplant surgeon, Dr. Srinath Chinnakotla. The liver was too big for the 2-month-old who was on the list ahead of Charlie.

“He said, ‘How fast can you get here?’ ” remembered Sarah about that second call on June 5.

They drove through the night and arrived at 4 a.m. June 6. The surgery was estimated to take between eight and 10 hours. Charlie was taken into the operating room just before 5 a.m. and, before noon, the surgeon came to talk with Sarah and Carl in the special waiting room where they slept through most of the surgery.

“It went pretty fast. I was shocked he was out so soon,” Sarah said.

Charlie spent six weeks in Minneapolis — five weeks in the hospital and one week at a Ronald McDonald House, where he celebrated his first birthday on July 14 with his mother and grandmother. The successful surgery was the “best birthday gift ever,” Sarah said.

Now, five months after the surgery, Sarah said the biggest change is all the medication Charlie needs to take. In the first days after the surgery, he was taking 15 medications. He is now taking a total of nine medications administered at six times during the day.

“I can do them pretty quick now,” said Sarah, as she gave Charlie two liquid medications in the kitchen Sunday afternoon.

Before the surgery, Charlie had yellowish skin and eyes.

"One of the main things I have looked forward to after his transplant was being able to look into his eyes and not see yellow surrounding his baby blues, but white," Sarah wrote on a CaringBridge webpage June 15. "Most of the yellow is gone, and they look amazing. His new liver is working."

Carl and Sarah expressed their thanks to the community, friends and their church for the help they have received. The family can “start moving forward, instead of waiting at a standstill” like they did before the transplant, Carl said.

That statement applies literally to Charlie, who is now walking energetically and adding to the chaos caused by his three older brothers.

“He was stuck in his baby development. He’s definitely a toddler now,” Sarah said of Charlie.