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Original Issue

Thrilled To Be Alive

It was the middle of the night, a time when Chris Klug often
found himself literally dreaming of an Olympic snowboarding gold
medal. But on this night the pain would not let him sleep. He sat
up in bed, feeling as if someone had plunged a knife into his
right side, and he didn't need another trip to the hospital to
know that, although he had lived for eight years with a rare
disease that was destroying his liver, he wouldn't be able to
survive much longer without a transplant. "When you're training
for the Olympics, you try to tell yourself that, even if you
don't win the gold, life goes on," Klug says. "Suddenly I found
myself thinking, What if it doesn't?"

Three months after that terrifying night in April 2000, Klug, now
29, received a healthy liver in a six-hour operation. Just seven
weeks later he was back on the slopes, on his way to regaining
his status as one of the top snowboarders in the world. Klug, who
finished sixth in the giant slalom at the 1998 Olympics, was the
U.S. national champion last year in parallel giant slalom,
establishing himself as the best American hope for a medal in
that event. Those dreams of Olympic gold are back.

Klug, who lives in Aspen, Colo., was 20 when doctors told him
that he had primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a potentially
fatal disease that strikes one in 10,000 people. In PSC patients
the bile ducts become scarred and inflamed, which can lead to a
variety of liver problems, including cancer. Hall of Fame running
back Walter Payton died in 1999 of complications from PSC. "I was
just fortunate that they found it [in an early stage] when I was
having a routine physical," Klug says.

Klug, who received his liver from a teenage gunshot victim, now
works to promote organ donation. Winning a gold would make him a
much more visible spokesman for that cause, giving him further
motivation to reach the medal stand. But even if he falls short
of his goal, he can console himself with words that mean much
more to him than they once did: Life goes on.

--Phil Taylor