Bill Klahn, Liver Recipient

I’m afraid we found cancer, Mr. Klahn. Three tumors located in both lobes of your liver. As we discussed before, your best option is transplant, and now your name will be moved to the top of the list.” I cried for about five minutes.

I could barely walk up a flight of stairs, but I found peace of mind in swimming laps. Through it all I could still swim from one end of the pool to the other, easier than I could walk. My buoyancy made my movements effortless. Not confined by gravity, I found energy in the water, and felt as if I was flying.

My wait for a liver was short, only a couple of months. The surgeons told my parents after 14 hours of surgery everything had gone perfectly. The fourth day after my surgery the doctors told me to go home.  “I can’t go home, I just had a liver transplant,” I argued to no avail.

Three months later, I was in the pool again. After about four months I had a minor setback. It was acute rejection, which was controlled by three days of intensive IV therapy that reduced my immune system so that my body could accept my new liver.

After I recovered I hit the pool again, with a vengeance. Three months later I won a gold medal in 50 meter breastroke at the U.S. Transplant games. I also placed second in the 100 meter breastroke and the 50 meter butterfly, along with playing on Team Iowa’s gold medal winning basketball team.

It has now been over two years since my transplant and not a day passes without realizing how fortunate I am to be alive. I recently competed in a Masters swimming Championship in Cedar Rapids. I really didn’t swim as well as I had hoped, but at the meet I met a wonderful woman named Jo Leah, whose 23 year old daughter Sarah, had died and was an organ donor. Sarah saved my life. Her liver was now my liver, still alive inside of me.

Jo Leah and I had been in contact by mail for several months and she came to see me swim.  Jo Leah sent me a card and in it she wrote, “thank you so much for the gift you gave me the day we met. Seeing you, visiting with you, and watching you swim was truly an honor and a blessing.”

She thanked me for the gift of simply meeting with her and sharing with her part of my life. Sarah gave me the gift of life. There is not a more precious gift.