Klug spends Valentine’s Day talking about the heart | AspenTimes.com

Klug spends Valentine’s Day talking about the heart

Nate Peterson
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Olympic medalist Chris Klug was handing out something other than Valentines in the Aspen High School cafeteria Tuesday.On National Donor Day, Klug – who had a life-saving liver transplant in 2000 – manned a “Donor Dudes” booth promoting organ donor awareness. “[Organ donation] is the reason I’m here today, so it’s something that’s very important to me,” Klug said as he handed out pins and pamphlets, and signed posters for a throng of Aspen students. “Really, the goal of this event today is to spread awareness; to encourage kids and encourage our whole community just to think about donation.”One of the many students who stopped by the booth was Aspen sophomore Abby Mickey, 16. Mickey said she checked the box to be an organ donor when she got her learner’s permit recently, and she has also spoken with her parents about organ donation.”I told my mom I wanted to donate organs if something bad ever happened,” Mickey said. “I think if you’re already dead, why not?”A number of Americans haven’t made that decision, which is why National Donor Day is so important, Klug said. According to the Donor Awareness Council, more than 87,000 Americans are on waiting lists for life-saving organ transplants. On average, a new name is added to the list every 13 minutes, and someone waiting for an organ transplant dies every 17 minutes.

It’s numbers like those that illustrate the need for organ and blood donors, Klug said.”Just seeing the posters and seeing the donation awareness message, maybe some of these kids will go home and share that information with their families,” Klug said. “We’re not trying to tell anyone what’s right or what’s wrong, just to think about it and think about the impact one donor can have. One donor can save 25 lives and improve the lives of up to 50 people.”Klug, a World Cup alpine snowboarder, has been the national spokesman for National Donor Day since 2002 – the same year he won the bronze in parallel giant slalom at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.He is flying to Turin, Italy, Thursday to work as a commentator for the alpine snowboarding events at the Olympics and put in more appearances for organ donation awareness.Klug won’t be competing in Italy. He failed to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Snowboard Team. After an appeal, an independent arbitrator ruled in favor of the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association’s decision to select snowboarder Tyler Jewell of Massachusetts instead of Klug.”It’s a little different capacity than I originally envisioned,” Klug said. “Of course I’m disappointed not to be competing over there, but I’m going to make the most of it.”

Klug noted that Aspen High School has a direct connection to organ donation because of Robbie Wade – a 2002 Aspen High graduate who died in a skateboarding accident and whose family made the decision to donate his organs.”He was a hero,” Klug said. “It was tragic with his loss, but some good did come out of it.”Klug’s mother, Kathy, who works at Aspen High as a college counselor, said her son’s story of organ donation was one that resonated with Wade before his death.”He heard Chris speak and he said to his parents, ‘I want to be a donor,'” Kathy Klug said. “He wasn’t thinking anything would happen, of course. When it did, Robbie’s family was gracious and thoughtful enough to honor his wishes, and Robbie became a donor and saved lots of lives by doing so. Chris is very connected to Robbie’s family because of that.”It’s a message that continues to get through.On Tuesday at Aspen High, there were those, like senior Patrick Cote, who have already had the conversation about organ donation with his parents, and who also previously donated blood.

“It feels good just to know that you might have helped someone,” Cote said. “The same goes for the license, with having the heart on there. If you do have a tragic accident and you know that your parts go to a better cause.””When I gave blood, I didn’t have the needle or anything like that on my mind,” Cote added. “There’s a bigger picture for it, and the needle doesn’t really scare me at all.” Then there were those like sophomore Jessica Hite, who was considering being an organ donor after stopping by Klug’s booth.”We asked him what age we had to be to give blood,” Hite said. “He said that we can. We also talked about being an organ donor. He told us how important it was for us to have a conversation with our parents and let them know if we wanted to donate our organs.” “A lot of these kids are very ecological and environmental and they’re into recycling,” Kathy Klug said. “It’s truly recycling yourself. If you can’t use it yourself anymore, maybe somebody can. The ‘Donor Dudes’ program is part of Chris’ foundation to really reach young people and make them aware that 80,000 people are waiting for them to say yes.”Nate Peterson’s e-mail address is npeterson@aspentimes.com