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The Gift: Denver Attorney Donates Kidney To Stranger

DENVER (CBS4) - Each night at the dinner table growing up, David Rochlin's parents would ask him, "What did you do for other people today?" instead of more traditional inquiries about his day or schooling. Now, at age 62, he has an answer for that question after performing one of the most altruistic acts imaginable.

On Sept. 30, David voluntarily had his left kidney surgically removed to give to an anonymous stranger.

"It was my first experience with surgery," he said, "my first experience staying overnight in a hospital."

Organ 1
David Rochlin (credit: CBS)

Most organ donors give to a family member or close friend, who they have witnessed suffering from kidney failure. But what makes David's gift so extraordinary, he has no idea who received his kidney.

The surgery was the culmination of months of testing and planning to make sure he was a suitable donor. He also had to arrange time away from his work as an attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The actual decision to donate was made a full calendar year before the surgery. His daughter, Elle, recalled learning about her father's decision in an email.

"Wait, you are going to be evaluated to be a 'Good Samaritan' donor?! Wow, good for you!" she wrote in response, "It's also okay to change your mind and help in other ways, but I'm really surprised and happy to hear that you are even considering it!"

Organ 2
David Rochlin with his daughter (credit: CBS)

Rochlin's wife, Ramona, said she had "no hesitation" with the plan: "In the long run, David will lead a perfectly normal life."

After the surgery, he was released from the hospital in just three days, back at work in three weeks and riding his bicycle soon thereafter.

During his stay at Porter Adventist Hospital, he was called a "transplant hero." The phrase "Save A Life!" was written on the daily instruction section of the dry-erase board in his hospital room.

Organ 3
(credit: CBS)

"David is a hero," said Ramona. "He did something that he didn't have to do for someone else."

"Can I contradict that?" David interjected. "This is something ordinary people can do. You don't have to be extraordinary to give someone a kidney."

Now his daughter works for the American Transplant Foundation, which helps donors and recipients during the transplant process.

"Our mission is to make it more common, not this crazy heroic thing," Elle said.

At this point, the family is filled with curiosity about the recipient and the outcome of the surgery.

"I know nothing about this person. Not the person's gender, age or ethnicity," David said. "I picture someone with A-positive blood."

"The fact that I don't know anything about the recipient, or how well that person is doing, means I can't say for sure that I've saved a life."

Organ 4
David riding bikes with his family (credit: CBS)

But the recipient could decide to meet David in the near future. The transplant team has a six-week waiting period to make sure the donation was a success before offering the chance for a reunion. But, for privacy purposes, the decision to meet lies strictly with the recipient. David says he has come to terms with the notion that he may never know.

"It just boils down to wanting to do something good for somebody else," he said. "Everyone has the right to a healthy, happy life, no matter who they are."

LINK: For more information about organ donation, visit

-- By Mark Ackerman, CBS4 Producer

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