I am not exactly a jet-set globe hopper, but I am happy to report that I attended my second winter Olympics with a quick three day jaunt to the Vancouver Games. Eight years ago I attended the Salt Lake City Games. Both times it was to see a friend race, a remarkable fellow by the name of Chris Klug. You may recall his story. Chris is a world class athlete, his specialty is parallel slalom snowboarding and he represented America at the Nagano Games in 1998 where he finished sixth. At the time, Chris was quietly battling a congenital liver disease, PSC, the same disease that killed football great Walter Payton. Following Nagano, Chris’ condition worsened and by summer of 2000, he was not only no longer competing on the world snowboarding circuit, Chris was battling for his life. He joined nearly 100,000 others on the Transplant Waiting List, and without a transplant he would die.
Through the immense generosity of a donor family whose teenage son was fatally injured in a gun accident, Chris received a new liver. His recovery was remarkable, and only six months later he won a World Cup race in Europe. Eighteen months later he won a Bronze Medal at the Salt Lake Games. Chris is believed to be the first organ transplant recipient every to compete in the Olympics, let alone win a medal.
Four years ago Chris failed to make the U.S. Olympic team. Undeterred, he fought back to the top of his sport and there we were last Saturday at the final event at the Cypress venue watching Chris shoot for his second podium finish. Conditions were miserable. From the time we arose to catch the bus from Vancouver to Cypress until our return to the city, the rain was pouring. A dense fog had settled in at the slopes and we could barely see the contestants as they came through the final gates to the finish line.
A total of 30 snowboarders started time trials, with the fastest 16 advancing to match races. Chris’ time was in the middle and in a life of near misses, he qualified 16th to barely make the field. Otherwise, we would have travelled all the way to Vancouver to see just two runs. In the first round Chris was matched against the top qualifier and in true Klug fashion, he beat him to get to the second round. In the first run of the second round, Chris boogied to nearly a one second advantage. In the second run, he bobbled and just missed getting into the final four, three of whom took home medals.
Oh well. Truth is that every time Chris hits the slopes it is a giant victory for organ donation. Indeed, when not snowboarding Chris tours the world meeting with organ recipients, candidates on the waiting list, donor families, and health care providers. He is living proof that donation has become mainstream medicine, and that organ recipients can regain great quality of life. They can be productive members of society – even represent America in the biggest athletic show of them all.
Some years ago the Chris Klug Foundation was launched and my older son, Alex and I are on the Board. There are over 100,000 people awaiting transplants, and sadly, some die every day due to the shortage of donors. In California you can go online (go to donatelife.net for referrals) and commit to organ donation. Do it.
Mirror Contributing Writeropinion@smmirror.com