After a liver transplant saved Olympic snowboarder Chris Klug, he pays it forward through the Chris Klug Foundation and donor awareness.
When you grow up in the ski resort town of Vail, Colo., the mountains are your backyard. As soon as Chris Klug learned how to navigate on two feet, he strapped skis onto them. “I got started skiing as soon as I could walk, at about two years old,” he says.
At age 8, he got into skateboarding. Snowboarding was the natural intersection of his two passions.
It was the early 1980s, and the sport was still in its infancy. “I started in Moon Boots with lots of duct tape,” Klug says. “I look back on it though, and those early years are some of my favorites. Being involved in the pioneer spirit of the sport, you knew you were part of something special.”
By his sophomore year in high school, Klug was competing in the Professional Snowboarding Tour of America. In 1991, he went pro full-time.
That same year, Klug was transitioning from his parents’ health insurance to his own policy. The insurance company required him to get a physical. He’d always been healthy, but when his blood test results came in, “The numbers came back really strange,” he says.
Klug and his doctors figured the results were a fluke. Yet a repeat of the test produced the same numbers. His liver enzymes were too high.
After undergoing a year’s worth of exams and tests, Klug got a diagnosis. He had primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), a rare disease that scars and narrows the bile ducts from the liver.
“I’ll never forget my doctor telling me, ‘The disease you have, someday it’s going to necessitate a liver transplant.’ I thought, ‘Who is he talking about?’”
From the Olympics to the operating room – and back
Klug kept a watchful eye on his condition, but he continued training. In 1998, he competed in Nagano, Japan, with the first ever U.S. Olympic snowboarding team.
Few people know that his health had deteriorated to the point where he’d been put on the organ transplant waiting list.
The average wait time for a liver in the U.S. is 149 days. Klug was on the list for six years.
“In the spring of 2000, my health really took a turn for the worse,” he says. “I’d lost almost 40 pounds and was really headed downhill fast.”
October 16, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN