The Bounce-Back Kid

Professional snowboarder Chris Klug carves his way back to the top of the mountain.

Still, they couldn't help but be drawn to stories in the Denver newspapers about automobile accidents or gunshot victims. They would read about death and then wonder if the telephone was going to ring, offering life.

Sometimes the frustration would make its way into the dark humor that preserved their sanity. As things grew more desperate, Chris had a running joke about hanging around a certain popular but dangerous rock-climbing spot with a cooler, ice and a scalpel -- to collect a liver. Chris and Missy would pass someone riding a motorcycle without a helmet and say, "There's an organ donor." It was just easier to laugh than to cry.

But the humor couldn't cover the growing frustration. After the Fourth of July holiday, they'd read that a dozen people had died in car accidents, three or four of them under thirty years old. But there'd been no calls, and they'd been left to wonder if the victims' internal injuries had been too severe or the victims simply had not registered to be donors.

 
Brian Stauffer
 
Chris as a toddler.
Chris as a toddler.

The night of July 25, they'd gathered to celebrate Kathy's birthday. Chris tried to be upbeat for her sake, but Kathy knew he was sinking into depression. They prayed together that night that somewhere, someone would make the decision that would spare Chris's life.

The next morning, Missy spotted an article in a Denver newspaper about a thirteen-year-old boy who'd been shot the night before by another teen in a Denver-area trailer park. The story said the youth, shot in the head, had been taken to St. Anthony Central Hospital in Denver. She wondered if this would be the day they got the call.

They'd gone to Ruedi Reservoir with family and friends, where Chris had followed his doctors' order to "take it easy" by barefoot water skiing all day. Such activities helped keep his mind off the telephone, but there was also a sense that he was saying goodbye to the things he loved, at least for a while.

The pager stayed quiet all day, and there were no telephone messages when they got back to their condo that evening. So Missy dismissed the shooting victim as a possible candidate.

The next morning, Chris reported to the clinic for bloodwork. The news wasn't good. His immune system was being overwhelmed. The doctor decided to give him a pneumonia vaccine while his system was still strong enough to benefit. Chris complained that the vaccine made his arm sore, which combined with general stiffness in his back and neck from the previous day's water skiing. Still, he reported to the Aspen Club to work out.

While Chris exercised, Missy went for a hike above Aspen. At the top, she sat down on a rock cropping to take in the day. She was enjoying the sunshine, but then started thinking that maybe she'd been gone too long. She'd just about reached the bottom of the trail when she saw a friend sprinting toward her. "Chris got his call," the friend shouted.

Chris had just walked into the locker room when his father phoned and said the hospital coordinator wanted him to call. Chris had immediately called Steinberg at University Hospital. "Well, we have a possible donor, and you need to get down here," she'd told him. She assured him that if he was there in six hours, there'd be no problem.

He had only one more question. For once, his appetite was back, and he'd had only a bowl of Cream of Wheat for breakfast. "I was just about to go get a smoothie," he said.

"Don't," was Steinberg's reply. "Just get down here."

Chris called his parents as he and Missy rushed to their apartment. "I've been waiting so long and thought I'd be excited," he confessed to Missy. "But now that it's happening, I'm really nervous."

Soon they were in the air, headed for Denver. Warren and Missy kept assuring the nervous Chris that all would be well. They'd both picked up a newspaper before boarding the jet. There on the front page was another story about the teen who'd been shot...an accident, according to the teen who'd been arrested for it.

Missy and Warren looked at each other and nodded at the article. They pointed it out to Chris.

"Oh, you guys don't know," he protested and looked out the window. It was obvious to them that he didn't want to have to deal with that reality just now.

Next week: The operation and the quest for the Olympics.

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