By Joel Hillan

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – The first successful human liver transplant was performed on an 18-month-old patient at University of Colorado Hospital in 1967.

Since then, thousands of Coloradans have come together to help those in need of a second chance at life.

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Chris Klug (credit: Chris Klug)

“I’m here today because of the heroic and selfless decision of another person that saved my life and others,” said Olympic bronze medalist and liver transplant recipient Chris Klug.

Klug was at UCHealth moderating a panel on organ donation.

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(credit: CBS)

He received a liver transplant, and 18 months later he would win his bronze medal.

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(credit: Chris Klug)

“My donor family, I met them for the first time the day after winning my bronze medal in Salt Lake City in 2002. I got to put my bronze medal around their neck and let them know that I’m here today because of them, and I was able to win that Olympic medal because of them and they’re heroes,” said Klug.

Attending the discussion was two-time transplant recipient and Colorado native Eric Rice.

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Eric Rice (L) (credit: CBS)

“Before Eric’s first transplant, he was physically in very bad shape, and he was, I think emotionally, just about at the end of his rope,” said Dr. Elizabeth Pomfret.

Pomfret was part of Rice’s first surgery. When his living donor transplant failed, he received an organ from a donor who had died. That one took, and his life was changed.

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(credit: CBS)

“I’m working again. I’m dating again, which is amazing. I’m able to wake up every morning and work out and be physical and live like pretty much like I did when I was 21 and healthy,” said Rice.

“To see that loved one’s gift of liver, kidney, all these different organs that totally transform other people’s lives is really the essence of human kindness. It is the most extraordinary thing we can do as human beings,” said Pomfret.

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“I just really value each day. You know that sounds super cliché, but it’s totally true just waking up and seeing the sun in the sky and feeling super good is incredible,” said Rice.

LINK: UCHealth Transplant Services

Joel Hillan anchors CBS4 This Morning on weekends as well as reports stories for CBS4 News at 5 and 6 p.m. Follow Joel on Twitter @joelhillan.

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