During their first year of marriage, Kim and John Kircher had to face the unfaceable. Diagnosed with a rare form of bile duct cancer, John needed a liver transplant. When the doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota laid out the facts, they made it clear that John didn’t have time to wait for a liver from a deceased donor. That could take up to a year. He needed a live donor and he needed a liver now.
Kim’s memoir, The Next 15 Minutes recounts the year she and John spent waiting for a living donation and her recollections of a life spent throwing bombs, saving lives and sometimes watching life slip away on the ski slopes. It is the story of a professional risk taker who rises at 4:00 a.m. in the worst of weather to ensure safe recreation for thousands of skiers, most of whom never say thank you. It is the story of a daring woman, a woman who has Type-1 diabetes, but has spent her life in the wild, outdoors in extreme conditions, quick access to medical care be damned. It is also a love story, the story of a couple who find true love (and compatibility on skis), only to have life throw a most wicked curve right back at them.
Drawing on two decades as a professional ski patroller at Crystal Mountain, in the Cascade Range of Washington, Kim uses her ski patrol training to make it through crises 15 minutes at a time. In emergency medicine and ski patrolling, there is a “golden 15 minutes,” the time when a rapid response can save a life following an accident or a heart attack on the snow. Applied to avalanche victims, the key time frame is again 15 minutes. According to Kircher, “Victims found within the first 15 minutes have about a 90% chance of survival. Double the time under the snow and the rate drops to 30%.”
Living life in the moment and drilling time down into focused 15 minute increments, Kim figured she could make it through anything. Awaiting the doctor’s diagnosis Kircher steels herself, saying “I wasn’t going to panic. I promised myself that. Instead, I could squeeze time into smaller increments, and not try to conquer it all at once. I would try to get through it just fifteen minutes at a time.”
Running Out of Time
As time rolls on, the minutes piling into hours, the hours into days, then weeks, and then months, each volunteer donor is found unsuitable, and the tension in the Kirchers’ lives mounts, as does the desperation. Outwardly, Kim tries to project strength and optimism. Inwardly, she falls apart.
“Maybe I can’t do this anymore,” she writes. “For the past few months, every new donor was like a scaffold that I could build on. If not that one, then there would be another one. A whole list of waiting donors pointed like an arrow in the direction of travel. I knew where I had to go. With each rejected donor that arrow grew shorter and shorter until there was just one left. ”
And in the end, just one was needed. One donor, and a lifetime of “15 minutes”.
The Next 15 Minutes is a solid read: Well-written, suspenseful and never melodramatic. The crises the Kirchers face are real. Their reactions are real, too. For anyone interested in the life of a ski patroller, or just envious of the time they spend on the mountain, The Next 15 Minutes also offers a window into the thrills, dangers, triumphs and heartbreak of their work.
The Next 15 Minutes is available from Amazon.com. Or, leave your name here for a chance to win a signed copy of Kim’s book in a random drawing. Entries will be accepted through October 12, with the drawing on October 14 at 8:00 a.m.
Living Donor Liver Transplants
According to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), eighteen people die each day waiting for a liver transplant from a deceased donor. Currently, the liver transplant waiting list is over 17,000 people.
Living donor liver transplant provides another option. In this procedure one of the lobes of a living donor’s liver is removed and transplanted. Within weeks, both individual lobes have regrown into a full liver. While this seems like a ready solution to a dire problem, there is a risk to the donors. Thus the careful and extensive screening each donor must undergo before being accepted to provide a transplant organ.
The Chris Klug Foundation Summit for Life
At the 2002 Olympics, Chris Klug became the first Olympian to medal after an organ transplant. Since that time Chris, who received a liver from a deceased donor, has turned his attention to promoting organ donation, specifically encouraging high school and college students to sign up as organ donors.
On December 10, the Chris Klug Foundation sponsors the 6th Annual Summit for Life in Aspen. Skin up 3,267 vertical feet to the top of Aspen Mountain to raise awareness for organ and tissue donation. Recreational racers start at 5:00 p.m. with the competitive class beginning at 6:00. Racers commit to raising $160 in pledges to participate. For more information on the Summit for Life and Wine and Dine For Life on Friday, December 9, please visit www.summitforlife.org.
Not only can you help raise money for organ donation, but this year, you can race Kim Kircher (you already know her strategy — she’ll climb 15 minutes at a time).
To facilitate this book review, I received a complimentary Advance Readers Edition of The Next 15 Minutes. All opinions expressed in this review are my own. This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.
This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Vickie!
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