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Iowans to Compete in Transplant Games

IOWA CITY, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - On Friday, 20 organ transplant donors and recipients will head to Houston to compete in the Transplant Games in an attempt to raise awareness about organ donation.

Right now, there are nearly 600 people waiting for an organ transplant in the state of Iowa, and about 123,000 nationwide.

The games are a giant sports competition, but all of the athletes are either transplant donors or recipients. One of the Iowans heading to participate is Bill Klahn, who has medaled in four national Transplant Games and three international versions of the competition.

In 2005, Klahn got a liver transplant after being diagnosed with hepatitis C and end-stage liver cancer.

"Even though I was sick, I continued to swin," Klahn said.

He competed and medaled in seven Transplant Games since, and after nearly a decade of debilitating treatments, he finally beat his hepatitis C with the help of a new medication. But the process wasn't easy.

"It was agonizing. My hemoglobin was way down. I was sick all the time. Depression," he said.

That was just two months ago. Since then, Klahn has been training and building back up his strength, because this life-long swimmer wasn't about to give up his chance to compete.

"It's what I live for," Klahn said.

Klahn said he and his fellow athletes want to show people that an organ recipient can live and thrive, and that other people should become donors, too.

"They are doing so much more with their lives trying to say thanks and show thanks to the donor family that made that decision to give them the gift of life," said Iowa Donor Network public outreach manager Tony Hakes.

"Saving lives, that's what it's all about," Klahn said.

So the 60-year-old man has signed up for 10 swimming events over two days to prove that every life is worthwhile -- and to say thanks to the woman who died, and saved his.

"I think about it all the time when I'm swimming a race," Klahn said, fighting back tears. "I say her name in my head, towards the end when I'm really tired, with every stroke I say her name in my head, because she saved my life. And that's what I do."

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