Published: Tuesday, December 19, 2017 @ 6:35 AM
By: Roy Ramos, WFTV.com
ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — While the normal wait for a donor kidney can be as long as a decade, Robert Leibowitz found a match within a few months, thanks to a T-shirt and a trip to the Magic Kingdom.
Leibowitz, a 60-year-old resident of New Jersey, made a T-shirt with his daughter before a trip to Orlando as a way to help search for a kidney donor.
Rocio Sandoval posted a picture on Facebook of Leibowitz wearing the shirt, which read, “In need of a kidney. O positive. Call 917-597-2651.”
Sandoval said she approached Leibowitz and asked if she could snap a picture and share it online.
She said he was pushing a child in a wheelchair.
“This man turned around with the biggest smile, so grateful, and said, ‘Yes, please!’” she said. “He gave us both a hug and said, ‘Thank you. Please share this with the world.’”
The photo of Leibowitz went viral on social media, and while he received calls from willing donors with the right blood type, none passed the other requirements.
That is, until Richie Sully picked up the phone.
Sully, who lives in Indiana, saw the post when it was shared by a friend from Houston.
Knowing he had the correct blood type, Sully hopped on a Greyhound bus to get tested.
He spent 14 hours on the bus and stayed in a hostel so he could get tested, and when the results came back, it turned out he was a perfect match.
"I think that I am still in shock, just the fact that it is real," Leibowitz said Monday in a FaceTime interview with Channel 9.
Leibowitz said he has had kidney problems since he was 12 years old and wants to have as much time with his children as he can.
"I am a single dad. I love them more than anything in the world and they are my rocket fuel. That's what keeps me going," he said.
Sully said that part of Leibowitz's story hit home for him.
"As a father, I could relate to having kids, and the last thing I would want my kids to worry about every night when they go to bed is how much more time they have with me," Sully said.
Leibowitz said his 14-year-old daughter came up with the idea for the shirt and that he knew wearing it on his Disney trip would help him get a lot of exposure.
"I figured that is the best place to do it in a week," he said. "It is very hard to get a kidney and there are not a lot of donors out there, or with O positive (blood type). I am universal, but I have to get an O back."
Sandoval’s Facebook post was shared 33,000 times within 24 hours.
“I just wanted to do something nice for somebody. Honestly, I was hoping it would get shared 100 times in one day, because I only have like, 260 friends on Facebook,” Sandoval said.
The fact that the post was not only shared thousands of times, but also resulted in Leibowitz finding a match, was amazing, Sandoval said.
"I am over the moon," she said. "This is like my Christmas miracle."
Sully said he was glad he could be there for Leibowitz when he needed it the most.
"Fortunately, I am fairly healthy and I saw this as just another way to help someone," he said. "It just happens to require surgery."
The fact that someone in a different state would see a Facebook post, travel so far and decide to donate a kidney to a complete stranger was more than amazing to Leibowitz.
"It is not like we don't have a cure for kidney disease," he said. "We do. It is humanity. Humanity changed its name to Richie Sully."
The kidney transplant is scheduled for Jan. 18 in New York.
Following the surgery, both families plan to reunite in the place where their story started: the Magic Kingdom.
Becoming an Organ Donor
According to the National Kidney Foundation, 123,000 Americans are on a waiting list to receive an organ transplant and more than 101,000 need a kidney.
The foundation said 17,000 people receive one each year and that 12 people a day die waiting for a kidney.
You can visit the Donate Life America website to join your state's online registry for donation. You can also declare your intentions on your driver's license.
The National Kidney Foundations says letting your family or other loved one's know about your decision is vitally important. Family members are often asked to give consent for a loved one's donation.
You can also consider being a living kidney donor. Living donation is when when a living person donates an organ or part of an organ to someone in need of a transplant. The donor is most often a close family member, such as a parent, child, brother or sister. A donor can also be a more distant family member, spouse, friend or co-worker.