Beanie Babies, the hot collector's item in the 1990s, became very valuable to one lucky woman.
After a chance encounter she had with the manufacturer's owner, Ty Warner, Jennifer Vasilakos now has a greater chance of surviving a life-threatening kidney disorder.
Warner, the Beanie Babies billionaire mogul of Ty Inc., got lost in on July 14 in Santa Barbara, Calif. and pulled into the parking lot of a local festival to ask for directions.
"He'd rolled up in his nondescript car, while I was fundraising at the French Festival. He was lost and needed directions. I often get asked by random strangers for directions. Not one to miss an opportunity, I handed him my flyer and he made a fifty dollar donation," Vasilakos wrote on her blog.
Vasilakos was in the parking lot raising money for the stem cell treatment she so desperately needed to recover her kidney function and come off dialysis, she said on her fundraising website.
Vasilakos' kidneys failed last year (doctors still don't know why) and she was told she was ineligible for a kidney transplant for now because she previously had a small melanoma removed from her back. The stem cell treatment was the next best option, as it costs less than a transplant and she wouldn't have to take drugs to suppress her immune system and keep her body from rejecting a new organ.
Vasilakos needed to raise enough money to undergo the procedure. She would have to go outside the U.S. because no hospitals here perform the treatment she sought.
Warner seemed generous; after she gave him the directions he needed, he made a $50 donation and went on his way.
"As he drove off, I thought that was the end of our encounter. One of my girlfriends with me that Saturday morning noticed his return before I did. Again he stopped at my table near the entry to the parking lot. He'd returned after an hour or so. Rolling down his window, he reached out his hand and introduced himself. I immediately recognized his name. He was kind and sincere as he looked directly into my eyes, and the woman with him smiled at me. They'd read my flyer," Vasilakos said on her blog.
"I listened as he repeated over and over that he was going to help me. That my fundraising was done. That I didn't need to worry any longer. He said he would send a check after he returned to his offices during the week."
And he did. On July 26, Vasilakos blogged that she received a package at her office. When she went to her desk to get it, she saw an overnight FedEx envelope from Warner.
"The handwritten letter by the donor was genuine and heartfelt. It was the type of letter you keep forever, and accompanying it was the check. A check that could change my life in an instant. Streaming tears of relief and amazement fell uncontrollably from my eyes, as I walked out of the room back towards the exit. I was flooded with indescribable emotion," Vasilakos said.
Warner had sent a check for $20,000 to cover her expenses.
"The cost of round trip travel. The cost of the dialysis treatments while there. The cost of the stem cell treatment itself. Food. Lodging. Calculating numbers in my head, I concluded that I might have enough now to go without worrying about anything. I might have all that I need to claim my life back and continue my journey here on Earth, " wrote Vasilakos.
On Tuesday, Warner released a statement explaining his donation was about more than just Vasilakos' immediate need for help.
""After I serendipitously met Jennifer, I further educated myself on her stem cell needs. I was shocked that this particular type of treatment wasn't available to her in the U.S.," Warner said. "My hope is that we can bring this lifesaving treatment to the forefront so that it can become more readily available and provide alternatives for people like Jennifer."
Upon receiving the check, Vasilakos said all the tension in her body released and a euphoric feeling began to fill her. She wrote on her blog she was beaming from ear to ear as she floated to her to car to start sharing the news.
And now, almost one month later, it's pretty clear the news has spread.
Vasilakos left California Aug. 19 to begin her treatment at a foreign hospital approved by the International Cellular Medicine Society. She will disclose the treatment's location once she returns to the U.S.