Man's T-shirt plea for kidney leads to live organ donor match

The magic of Disney, the power of social media and a gift from a stranger.

December 22, 2017, 8:44 AM

— -- The magic of Disney, the power of social media and the generosity of a stranger have come together to change the life of one New Jersey man.

Last summer, Robert Leibowitz went to Disney wearing a T-shirt with a plea for a kidney written on it. ABC News reported on that story at the time.

A stranger named Rocio Sandoval snapped a photo of Leibowitz and shared it on Facebook. That post was, in turn, shared more than 90,000 times.

It was seen by an ICU veterinary technician in Indiana named Jess Rutledge who told her friend Richie Sully about it. Sully had just found out his blood type the day prior. It was O-positive, the same kind a living kidney donor for Leibowitz would need.

So Sully gave Leibowitz a call. And after a battery of tests, both physical and psychological, a meeting in New York and a sushi dinner shared by the two men, the operation for Sully to give Leibowitz his kidney is scheduled for Jan. 18 at New York Presbyterian.

"He won't stop thanking me for it," Sully told ABC News. It's not a big deal to me but I know what it means for him and his family."

He added: "The way I was raised, if someone needs help you give it to them."

He said he has no worries about the surgery, knowing the people at the hospital are the best in their field.

"I researched, I talked to donors, it’s just not a big deal to me," Sully said. "A guy needs this to live, and I have an extra one, I can function with one, not a big deal."

It's a very big deal to Leibowitz, who has chronic kidney failure and has been in dialysis several times a week for hours at a time for the last three years. It's also a big deal to his five children.

"The only cure for what I have is humanity," Leibowitz told ABC News. "And that's Richie Sully."

Sully, Leibowitz said, took a 15-hour Greyhound bus from his home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and stayed at a hotel outside Manhattan in order to be present in New York City for his day of tests and meeting with Leibowitz. Then he boarded a bus to go all the way back home.

While insurance covers the cost of the kidney transplant for both Leibowitz and Sully, the travel expenses are not included. Sully will have to remain in NYC for two weeks following the surgery. A YouCaring Account has been set up to offset some of those costs.

Both men hope their story will inspire people to learn more about the living donor program.

"I didn't even know that was a thing until all this happened," Sully said. "I hope I can help other people who are on the waiting list."

Four strangers -- Leibowitz, Sully, Sandoval and Rutledge -- are now part of one story that will likely give Leibowitz a new lease on life.

His greatest hope is that the four of them can somehow reunite and celebrate in Disney World, where the magic began.

Disney is the parent company of ABC News.

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