When U.S. Olympic snowboarder Chris Klug shreds down the mountain
this week, one heartbroken but
proud mom will be yelling "Go, Chris!" and "Go, Billy!"
"I'll cheer for them both," said Leisa Flood, mother of Billy
Flood, whose liver is keeping Klug alive.
Billy Flood was 13 when he was shot and killed by a friend in Adams
County, Colo., in summer 2000.
Klug, 28, who started skiing at Vail when he was 2, was diagnosed
with a rare liver disease nine years ago. He received Billy's liver
after the boy's death.
"I'm so grateful that the (Flood) family was willing to give me
the gift of life," Klug said.
The story of how Billy died from a gunshot wound and how Klug's
life was saved by a donated liver link the two families forever, say
the father of the Olympian and the mother of the dead boy.
Klug was a natural athlete and adventurer who started skateboarding
at age 10, became an all-state quarterback in Oregon and joined the
International Snowboard Federation Tour a year after high school
Life was great for the Klugs, especially after the family moved to
Aspen, where their son could rely on good snow, and his father,
Warren, ran the Aspen Square Motel.
Then Chris Klug became sick. He was diagnosed in 1993 with primary
sclerosing cholangitis, a rare, degenerative disease that killed
football great Walter Payton. It affects one person in 10,000, mostly
Klug wasn't in immediate danger and continued to snowboard while
adding his name to a liver recipient list.
Klug finished sixth at the Nagano Winter Olympics in 1998. But by
May 2000, his liver condition was so serious doctors knew he was in
urgent need of a transplant. "It felt like a dagger had been jabbed
into my side," Klug said. "I was deteriorating each week."
In summer 2000, Billy Flood lived with his mother at the Mobile
Gardens trailer park on North Federal Boulevard in Adams County.
"He would work all day, shoveling walks or doing lawns," Leisa
Flood recalled. "He'd get paid and then spend money on everybody but
Billy was no angel, but he was kindhearted, his mother said. She
also said his friend, Patrick Rosene, 14, had been picking on him for
A week later, on July 25, 2000, while she was out and Billy and
Patrick were smoking marijuana at the trailer home, Billy was shot,
according to court testimony.
Leisa Flood, now an apprentice ironworker in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho,
remembers the nightmare at the hospital.
"I watched the machines, the blood going from my boy's head," she
"My husband said, 'Leisa, he's dead,' but he was breathing on his
own, and they couldn't convince me."
The doctor explained organ harvest to Leisa Flood and her husband,
Rob. Rob Flood said it was what Billy would want, but Leisa Flood
couldn't let go.
"I was thinking, 'Oh, they're going to cut my boy up in little
"But then, I was just sitting with him and thinking about
what a giving and loving person he was. He would want someone to
On July 28, Chris Klug got the call. He was rushed to University
Hospital in Denver, where Dr. Igal Kam and his team performed the
delicate liver transplant operation.
Six months later, he won a World Cup parallel giant slalom race at
"I can't imagine how hard it must have been for the family to go
through the tragedy of losing a son," Warren Klug said. "For people
to do that, to benefit other families they don't even know, it's a
very courageous and caring thing to do."
Billy was buried in his father's hometown, Mullan, Idaho, and Leisa
Flood soon followed to be close to the grave. Rob Flood still lives in
Mullan, about 100 miles from Coeur d'Alene.
Soon after her son's death, Donor Alliance gave Leisa Flood the
names of all the people who were living with Billy's organs, but the
name "Chris Klug" meant nothing to her.
Only two weeks ago she learned that he is a world-class
"I would really love to meet Chris, to meet all the families,"
she said. "The ironic thing is, (Billy) always wanted to learn to
snowboard. But I never could afford it. He got a snowboarding video
game and a T-shirt from a snowboarding shop."
Klug, who was selected to the Olympic snowboard giant slalom team
last weekend after top showings in Italy and Austria, wants to meet
the Floods. But because they discovered each other's identities so
recently, he wants to wait until after he races in the Olympics.
"They're the real heroes in this thing, without a doubt," Klug
said. "I wouldn't be here doing what I love, pursuing my Olympic
dream, without them.
It's going to be a very special meeting."
Klug has become an evangelist for donor awareness, hoping to make a
dent in the 18,000-name-long waiting list of people needing a liver,
of which 1,800 likely will die waiting.
Meanwhile, Leisa Flood is trying to put her world back together.
"My boy was my world," she said. "I don't understand how God
allows something like this to happen, but I believe there was a reason
for it. He won't feel pain anymore. Every time I see a blond-haired
kid, it's hard. The death of a child is a pain you can't explain."
Life goes on, and Leisa Flood's two grown daughters are talking
about taking up snowboarding.
"When I first heard that Chris was an Olympic snowboarder, I
cried. But then, I just started laughing," she said. "I still talk
to my son; it's part of my grieving. I told Billy, 'God, son, you're
going to the Olympics!' "