Vic Clementi may be one of the worst things to ever happen to hepatitis C.
Two years ago, he lay semi-conscious in the intensive-care unit at the California Pacific Medical Center suffering from liver and kidney failure brought on by the disease. He was mere hours away from death.
"Go in and say what you've got to say," doctors told his wife, Kim. "Because this will probably be the last chance you'll get."
As Clementi's life slipped away, so did another - that of Jo-Carol Davidson, a talented young San Francisco vocalist and neighborhood activist who died suddenly from a cerebral aneurysm on her way to a singing competition.
Davidson's tragedy became her ultimate act of triumph and humanity - because she had committed to be an organ donor. Her liver and one of her kidneys were transplanted into Vic Clementi just in time to save his life.
Two years later, her liver and kidneys live on inside him.
"I was weak," said Clementi, who spent the next two months in the hospital fighting infections and complications from the surgery. When he was finally released, the former mountain climber, surfer and outdoorsman was faced with having to re-learn the simplest tasks - like walking.
Now, he's ready to climb again: "14,162 feet," he said. "Mount Shasta."
Working in his back yard, preparing for his daughter Ginny's high school graduation party, a moment he thought he may never live to see, his voice is strong and resonant against the silent blood-borne killer that almost took his life.
"I had always been really healthy," said the 54-year-old Clementi, whose transplanted liver and kidneys are a full 4 years younger than he. "I was the kind of guy who never missed a day of work."
Then he was diagnosed with hepatitis C.
He says he remembers bits and pieces, but much of the downward spiral after that remains a blur. He credits his family and friends like Dave Goodwin, owner of The Sporting Rage, for seeing him through.
"I had a strong support team," he said. "One of the best things I can offer others is that same strength of support."
And he's got plenty of it. Clementi says while climbing Shasta won't challenge him so much physically, it will be a supreme test of a different kind, and to that end, he's in the best spiritual shape of his life.
He'll climb the Northern California peak starting June 24 with a group of 15 to raise money and awareness for the American Liver Foundation.
Liver disease affects more than 25 million Americans.
Hepatitis C affects nearly 4 million people. The virus attacks the liver and causes severe damage, including cirrhosis, but as in the case with Clementi, it can go undetected for decades.
While there's no cure, Clementi said one of the best things to do is get checked out. A simple blood test can determine if a person has the disease.
And there's another thing he says you can do to help. "Do what Jo-Carol Davidson did. Become an organ donor."
Clementi says because of Davidson's decision, about 16 lives were saved, including 14 pediatric burn victims who would have died from infections without skin grafts.
"I feel like the luckiest man alive," said Clement. "I wouldn't be here without the unselfishness of my donor."
"Getting the word out about this disease is my job now," he said. "Giving support to other transplant patients, raising money for research."
While Clementi prepares to climb his first physical mountain since his transplant, he hopes he'll inspire others to climb mountains of their own, by becoming organ donors or donating to the cause.
"Of course I'm worried about him," said Clementi's wife, Kim. "But this climb is something he needs to do for himself and for the foundation."
n Contact reporter Peter Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1215.
You can help
n Support Vic Clementi's "Climb for Research."
Donations accepted at www.active.com/donate/
or mail a check made out to the American Liver
285 E. Applegate Way
Carson City, NV 89706
Donations of moral support and prayers are also
n Become an organ donor.
For more information, go to www.organdonor.gov.