CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — Bruce Graham loves adventure. And the retired airline pilot will be the first to tell you he's lived a full life.
"This was the best picture I had, when I summitted Mount Everest on May 22, 2019," said Graham, pointing to a framed picture inside his Castle Rock home.
He's been to Mount Everest three times. He's hiked within feet of an active volcano, and he appreciates every one of the dozens of countries he's visited.
"So, I'll write, you know, adventure number-529, trekking to the volcano in Iceland," said Graham. "I went there a couple weeks ago, and was fortunate enough to see the eruptions."
But it was on one of his trips, at an airport in Croatia, where he stopped and couldn't find a place for a new stamp on his second passport.
"And my wife said something to the effect of, 'Do you realize how ridiculous your life is?' And I did, you know, I do realize that," he said.
So, he wanted to do more. He researched living organ donation through the UCHealth Transplant Center and decided to give someone else the ultimate gift of life by being a donor.
"It truly is giving someone the gift of life," said Dr. Elizabeth Pomfret, the director of the UCHealth Transplant Center. She performed Graham's liver donation surgery.
"Because someone with in-stage organ disease, whether it's liver or kidney, has a tremendously difficult existence," she said.
Bruce enrolled for both a kidney and liver donation. Doctors found a match for his kidney first, when he got a call from one of the nurses.
"She said as a joke, 'We know you're cheating on us with the kidney people.' They work together," Graham said. "'But, we have a match for your liver, so what would you like to do?'"
His liver recipient was in more immediate need because, as he found out later, it was a 9-month-old girl.
In April 2020, Graham donated 20% of his organ to save her.
"I've done a lot of really really neat things," he said. "Traveling, climbing, just adventures. And nothing will ever be able to top that."
A year and a half later, he was ready for his second donor surgery. He gave one of his kidneys to a teenage girl.
"You get a couple of cool scars out of it and some good stories, and somebody else gets to live," Graham said.
"Their act of generosity has such an enormous ripple effect," Dr. Pomfret said. "Because it doesn't just affect that patient. It affects the patient, their family, their friends. I mean, it's an entire community."
It's never guaranteed that organ donors will ever meet their recipients. But, knowing their bond, Graham reached out hoping to connect. So, he wrote them each a letter.
"I told both of my recipients in the letters that I wrote, 'Maybe I'll see you at your high school graduation, or maybe I'll run into you somewhere. Or, maybe we'll never meet,'" he said. "'Either way... I wish them both nothing but the best. I hope they live normal, happy, healthy lives, and they take the opportunity to realize they were given a second chance. And I hope they make the most of it."
He's considered a hero by the medical community and his recipients' families. He gave a piece of himself, so two strangers — kids — could live out their own adventures.
"I mean he's an inspiration," Dr. Pomfret said. "[Bruce] is just an extraordinary person."
And given the chance, he said he would do it all over again.
"It's a really neat thing to get to participate in," Graham said. "And I'm just very fortunate that I got to do it twice."
He recently heard back from the family of his liver recipient, who's now 3 years old. Her family wrote that she's happy and healthy.
If you want to consider your own situation to see if organ donation is right for you, you can visit www.uchealthlivingdonor.org.