One Life Saved, 80,000 to Go

Feb. 23, 2004
Feb. 23, 2004

Table of Contents
Feb. 23, 2004


One Life Saved, 80,000 to Go

Chris Klug apologizes ahead of time for sounding a bit woozy. "I
had a spectacular wipeout yesterday," he explains. "Rung my bell
pretty good."

This is an article from the Feb. 23, 2004 issue

Details, please. "I was in the semifinals"--of a King of the
Mountain snowboarding race in Banff, Alberta--"against Richard
Richardson of Sweden. About halfway down I had the lead but got
bucked on a big whoop section, caught my heelside edge and
cartwheeled down the mountain. Ended up in a powder field with a
cracked helmet. It was awesome."

Dude, it sounds like you kind of ... enjoyed it.

He doesn't deny it. "Think about it," says Klug, 31. "One day I'm
on my deathbed, the next day I have a second chance with a new
engine. After going through that, I've never really seen things
the same. There isn't a day of riding, a turn on my board"--or
even an epic wipeout--"that I take for granted."

That new "engine" is a preowned liver that was implanted in Klug
on July 28, 2000. Afflicted with the same rare liver disease that
led to Walter Payton's death, Klug had spent almost seven years
on the waiting list for a donated liver. By late July of that
year, he'd been in critical condition for three months when a
13-year-old Colorado boy was killed in an accidental shooting.
The boy's mother agreed to donate her son's organs, saving the
life of a snowboarder they'd never met.

Six months later--six months!--Klug won a World Cup snowboard
race in Europe. A year after that he was on the podium at the
Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, having taken the bronze medal
in the parallel giant slalom. It was a feel-good story that still
feels pretty damn good.

Now, when he isn't hucking huge air on some "whoop section," Klug
is elevating consciences, making sure as many people as possible
get the second chance he got. I caught him on his cellphone not
long ago. He returned my call during an airport layover. It took
us three days to get that set up. February is to Klug what April
is to accountants: the busiest month. In addition to making his
living on the snowboarding circuit, he's the official spokesman
for Saturn's National Donor Day. For the past seven Valentine's
Days, Saturn dealerships across the country have offered a menu
of noble activities to anyone who drops in. Visitors last
Saturday donated blood, had their marrow typed (in order to
become registrants in the national marrow donor program) and
picked up organ donor pledge cards.

Without such a card--or other instructions spelling out your
wishes--there is no guarantee that your organs will be donated
when you die. "The bottom line," says Klug, "is that next of kin
makes the decision. So if you do nothing else, share your
decision with your family."

Should tragedy strike, I said to my wife after hanging up with
Klug, would you please see to it that my organs are promptly

"No problem," she said, not looking up from her computer. "Same
for me."

Just like that, we became part of the solution. Right now there
are 80,000 people in this country on transplant waiting lists.
Eighteen die every day.

Klug spends a lot of time in transplant centers, comforting
frightened patients who are awaiting organs. "I tell 'em, 'Hey,
your life's not over, you're not handicapped, you can come back.
Here, look what I won.' And I put my bronze medal around their

Between saving lives by raising awareness, and comforting the
afflicted, it's a fulfilling gig. "I'm telling you," Klug says,
"it's a pretty miraculous and amazing thing to be involved in."

As for his day job, Klug aims to win medals in two events at the
2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. In addition to the parallel
giant slalom, in which two skiers race each other down
side-by-side courses, he hopes to compete in boardercross, in
which four racers line up abreast and race down an
obstacle-filled course. The latter event, which has been
described as Roller Derby on snow, entails much jockeying and
jostling. This suits Klug, a former all-state quarterback from
Mountain View, Ore., who is now a ripped 6'3" and 220 pounds, and
whose football background will come in handy in the bottlenecks.
With five other guys on the course, a reporter points out, the
odds of a serious wipeout in boardercross are dramatically

Klug laughs, and it becomes obvious: That's fine by him.

The next SI ADVENTURE will appear in the March 22 issue.

COLOR PHOTO: THE BULLETIN/AP GRATEFUL Liver recipient Klug is a champion of organ donation.
"One day I'm on my deathbed," says Klug, "the next day I have a
second chance."