T-shirt plea for kidney donor at Disney gives New Jersey family hope

A chance encounter could mean a miracle for one man.

August 31, 2017, 3:23 PM

— -- A New Jersey man desperate for a kidney, a stranger who snapped a photo, a bit of Disney magic and the power of social media have all come together to bring a family renewed hope.

Robert Leibowitz, from Lawrenceville, was on vacation at Disney World last week with his five children when a stranger asked if she could snap a photo of his shirt.

The shirt wasn't Mickey or Minnie garb, it was a walking plea for an O-positive kidney donor, complete with a phone number to call with leads. He was happy to oblige.

"I said, 'You better believe it,'" Leibowitz told ABC News.

Leibowitz has chronic kidney disease and has been on dialysis for three years -- three times each week for four hours. He is on the list at five hospitals for a living donor, a process he was told takes about 7 years. For a variety of reasons, none of his children are appropriate donors.

The single, working dad of five kids ages 14 to 32 came up with the idea of the t-shirt before the trip to "his favorite place in the world" and he said his 14-year-old daughter had it printed.

Rocio Sandoval was the woman who snapped the photo. At first, she didn't want to approach Robert, but her husband Juan insisted. She shared the photo on Facebook and, in just 24 hours, it had been shared 35,000 times. Since the initial post, it has been shared almost 90,000 times.

"I started getting texts and phone calls," Leibowitz said.

"Our whole interaction lasted about 30 seconds," Sandoval told ABC News. Once the post started being shared, she called the number on the t-shirt.

Just a week later, she said, she feels like Leibowitz is "part of our family." The two are fielding hundreds of messages between them, amazed by how a small action could bring two strangers so close together.

Leibowitz estimates he's been contacted by about 400 people so far and he's reading through all the messages. He's been in touch with 30 people who have said they will fill out a donor application.

Kidney match or not, the attention to his plea has given his family renewed hope.

"The week before we left for the trip, I had just about given up. Now I'm a new person. I'm cautiously optimistic."

Sandoval, who lives in Orlando, works in hospital security and is a "huge Disney fan," said she thinks there's something magical about her path crossing with Leibowitz.

"I told him 'When you get your kidney, both families are coming back to Disney to celebrate.'"