Jessica Drossulis

Jessica Drossulis with bronze medalist
and liver recipient Chris KlugĀ 

Thousands Wait for a Call of Life
By Gregory Crofton

Tahoe Daily Tribune
April 14, 2003

More than 300 Nevadans and 8,000 Northern Californians are on organ and tissue transplant lists, The wait, which can be years, can also be fatal.
Only when a patient becomes extremely ill does he move to the top of the list.
Jessica Drossulis, 15, of Sparks, has been waiting for a liver for more than two years.

She has auto-immune hepatitis, a disease that began affecting her when she was 10. It’s difficult for Jessica to get out of bed, let alone get up at 5:30 a.m. to go to Heavenly Ski Resort to snowboard alongside an Olympian. But that’s what she did Friday.

Chris Klug, winner of a bronze medal for giant slalom snowboarding in 2002, signed posters for Jessica and about 30 others who have had a transplant or need one. Klug spent the rest of the day snowboarding with the members of the group as part of fund-raiser for the Sierra Eye & Tissue Donor Services.
Klug had a liver transplant in July 2000. His story of recovery from the rare liver disease primary sclerosing cholangitis, the disease football great Walter Payton did from, was well-documented at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. But still he is willing to keep sharing it.

“We’ll talk,” said Klug, beaming confidence into the eyes of Jessica. Klug promised to share insights about transplant procedures with Jessica once they were on the slopes.

Jessica says she is scared of what will be a 12- to 14-hour operation, recovery from which takes more than a month.

“It can be scary … but she’s in good hands at Stanford,” Klug said. “I know some of the doctors there.”

Jessica hopes to get a liver but the wait is difficult, especially because Nevada has no transplant center. The closest centers are in San Francisco and Stanford.

To lessen the burden, Jessica’s father, Kim, is willing to take the ultimate step. The 46-year-old is ready to split his liver with his daughter. The problem is doctors say his daughter is not sick enough to warrant an operation on him or her.

“That’s the point — that’s how desperate we are for organs,” said Susan Drossulis, Jessica’s mother. “That we are willing to endanger people’s lives for them.”

Hope lies in the operation, whenever it comes. Her mother, a nurse who cares for cancer patients, wants Jessica to prepare for surgery as early as this summer. But Jessica is scared.

When her mother describes what the operation would involve, Jessica looks away.

Her joints are stiff and they hurt. She takes 20 pills a day. She’s pale and tired, but she is still well enough to dance five days a week and is not in enough pain to be anxious for the operation.

“Almost five years I’ve been sick,” said Jessica, looking glum but not beaten. “My whole family is an organ donor now.”

April is National Donate Life Month. Last year, President Bush declared the week of April 21 as National Organ and Tissue Donor Awareness Week.About 60 people receive a transplant every day in the United States. But each day 15 die because no organs are available. There are about 80,000 people in the country waiting for an organ transplant.

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