NEW YORK - A dying father of five who printed a plea for a kidney donor on a T-shirt and wore it around Disney World for nine straight days while on vacation with his family in August has received a transplant.
"You know I came up with the idea because I think it’s out of desperation. I look at my kids. When I’m with my kids all my problems go away. And I needed more time with them," Rob Leibowitz, 60, said.
A couple who saw him wearing the T-shirt at Disney in August snapped a photo and shared it on Facebook. It went viral. It got 30,000 shares in the first 24 hours. Liebowitz got calls from strangers from across the country.
"Totally surprised. I’m from Brooklyn. I’m surprised at everything with help from strangers," Liebowitz, who now lives in New Jersey, said. "I was in shock."
But not everyone was a match.
Richie Sully from Fort Wayne, Indiana said he was donating blood to help Hurricane Harvey victims when a friend showed him that viral Facebook post. Sully called the number and left a voicemail.
"Hi, my name is Richie. I saw your post. I have an extra kidney. I’m O-positive. You’re more than welcome to have it," Sully said in his message.
Sully is also a single dad - of two little girls, 11-year-old Layla and 5-year-old Emma. Sully took off from work and paid to stay in a New York hotel for two weeks. He's spent time with Liebowitz every day.
"We walked around Manhattan for like six hours and we had sushi and he took me to Times Square. And we talked about music and about being dads and things like that. And really hit it off," he said.
Sully underwent surgery beside his new friend on Thursday at New York Presbyterian Hospital.
He says donating was an easier procedure than many think.
Why did he do it? Because he could.
"It’s not a big deal. And I’ve talked to several donors in the last week that have all said the same thing. Like if we could get people to understand how much of a big deal it’s not we would have so many more donors," Sully said.
But for Rob Liebowitz and his family - it was a huge deal.
"I keep saying thank you," Liebowitz said. "But you can’t put into words what he did for me, so I’ll have to figure out how to do that the best I can for the rest of my life."
They said they’re planning a family trip together back to Disney World, back to where it all began. They're also planning to have Richie and his girls come with them, as well as the couple who snapped the photo that went viral.
An online fundraiser has been set up to help Sully pay for the costs he's incurred to come to New York and undergo the surgery, including his hotel stay.
On average, 13 people die every day in the United States while waiting for a kidney donor.
More information on how you can become a living kidney donor can be found here.