January 25, 2018 4:57 pm

Dad of 5 gets kidney transplant thanks to a T-shirt he wore at Disney World

Suffering from chronic kidney disease and facing his own mortality, 60-year-old Robert Leibowitz knew a little desperation could go a long way.

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When Robert Leibowitz was on a family trip at Disney World in Florida last summer, he wore a T-shirt saying he needed a kidney.

The 60-year-old single dad of five was living with a chronic kidney disease and a kidney transplant was needed to save his life.

After a couple saw Leibowitz’s T-shirt during their own vacation, they asked if they could post a photo of him on Facebook.

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“On Tuesday Juan and I celebrated his birthday at Magic Kingdom. On our way out we saw this man pushing a teenage boy in a wheelchair. Juan asked if we could snap a picture to share online, this man turned around with the biggest smile, so grateful and said ‘Yes, please!,'” Facebook user Roco Sand wrote in August 2017. “He gave us both a hug and said, ‘Thank you, please share this with the world.'”

After more than 90,000 shares, a man named Richie Sully came across Leibowitz’s plea and gave him a call. And even though he was a total stranger, he wanted to help.

READ MORE: Toronto woman places ad in search for kidney donor

The kindness of a stranger

Leibowitz told CBS Sully had a heart “bigger than you can ever imagine.”

“Words cannot explain. This guy’s saving my life. He’s saving my life. He’s giving me more time with my kids,” he told the broadcaster.

“He knew he had an expiration date. He knew he had a shelf life. I saw this as a desperate act. I couldn’t think of a reason not to call the guy. It’s just seemed like this is something you’re supposed to do,” Sully told CNN.

READ MORE: 2-year-old denied kidney transplant because father violated probation

Sully told CBS he made a couple of trips to New York for blood work (he was based in Indiana) and after an “emotional roller coaster” the two found out they were a match.

“Just because you are a blood type match, doesn’t mean you’re going to be a match,” Leibowitz told CNN. “They look at every enzyme, every single tissue. There are so many details they have to do.”

According to CBS, the two are doing well and remain in the hospital.

Getting a kidney transplant

The Kidney Foundation of Canada notes about 80 per cent of people on waiting lists need a kidney. And according to the foundation’s latest data, 4,585 Canadians are currently on a waiting list for an organ.

“The success rate for a kidney transplant from a living donor is 90 to 95 per cent after one year and the transplanted kidney lasts 15 to 20 years on average,” the foundation notes. “For transplants from a deceased donor, the success rate is also high … 85 to 90 per cent of these kidneys are working well after one year and will last on average from 10 to 15 years.”

READ MORE: Advocates hope Selena Gomez kidney transplant inspires more living donors

The foundation adds that like any surgery, there are some risks involved with becoming a transplant donor. Some short-term risks include infection, pain or blood clots, while in the long-run, a donor may have an increased risk of high blood pressure or developing a disease in the remaining kidney.

Any healthy Canadian can become a donor, and the age of consent is between 16 and 19, depending on the province you live in. And depending on the type of surgery you undergo, it could take up to 12 weeks to fully recover.

“Learn as much as you can about living donation, and find out your blood type,” the foundation adds. Then, contact the transplant center that is taking care of the potential recipient to arrange testing to confirm whether your blood type is compatible.”

For more information on how to become a donor, click here.

arti.patel@globalnews.ca

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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