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There’s a reason Disney World is said to be “the happiest place on Earth.” It’s where the magic happens. And if you ask Robert Leibowitz, a single father of five who’s about to turn to 60 in a couple of weeks, he’d absolutely agree. Last week, Robert visited Disney World wearing a unique t-shirt — one that caught the eye of fellow tourist Rocio Yanira Sandoval and her husband Juan. And it was at that very moment that Robert’s life changed.
The attention-grabbing t-shirt certainly served its purpose. On its back, read the words: “In Need of Kidney O Positive” followed by a phone number. Rocio initially thought the man might be in search of a kidney for his child, whom he was pushing in a wheelchair at the time. But as it turns out, it’s Robert who’s in desperate need. While he’d rented the wheelchair for himself to use when he got tired, he let his son have a seat for a bit while he stretched his legs.
When Rocio’s husband Juan asked to share the image on Facebook, Robert quickly agreed, giving them the “biggest smile” and a hug, saying, “Thank you, please share this with the world.” However, neither Robert nor the Sandovals could ever have anticipated what would happen next.
“Within 24 hours, the post had been shared 35,000 times,” Robert tells Babble. The current total? Over 82,000 shares. Robert also says that he’s received over 200 texts he hasn’t had the chance to answer yet, all from people who are O Positive and want to be tested. That’s 200 texts from complete strangers who simply want to help a man in need. If that’s not an example of true humanity, I don’t know what is.
Robert’s story goes back nearly 48 years, as his first sign of kidney trouble came at age 12. A Brooklyn native who now resides in New Jersey, he tells Babble that a fever of 107 degrees led his mother to bring him to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with a kidney infection due to a malfunctioning ureter. He was able to receive treatment and heal completely, not giving much thought to his kidneys again until adulthood. At age 40, doctors noticed his creatinine levels were high and he was sent to a nephrologist. It was at this point that Robert learned the hard truth: his kidneys were eventually going to fail.
“I was 40 years old,” he shares. “I looked healthy. I felt healthy. I didn’t want to believe the doctors. [But] they told me it is a hidden disease.”
And sadly, his doctors were right. Now, at nearly 60 years old, Robert receives dialysis treatments for four hours a day, three times a week. He is on five different hospitals’ lists in search of a kidney donor, but has had no luck for several years.
Robert also tells Babble that for a long time, he was hesitant to ask for help publicly on Facebook. “Everyone has problems,” he says. “Some people are dying of cancer.” So he simply waited for that phone call. But once he and his family planned their recent trip to Disney World, he decided to create the t-shirt and improve his chances at finding a donor. And while he hasn’t found one yet, his luck certainly has seemed to change in the past week.
Both Rocio and Robert have expressed their gratitude for the love and support shown to Robert by complete strangers, as well as the awareness this viral post has provided about organ donation.
“Not only do I hope he gets his kidney, but this has raised awareness to the public about donating organs,” Rocio tells Babble. “There are so many people who are in need.”
She’s right — the numbers are staggering. According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are more than 101,000 Americans waiting for a life-saving kidney transplant, but only 17,000 receive one each year.
Robert’s need is also specific in that his greatest chance for long-term health is to receive a kidney from a live donor. He tells Babble that he “knows people are scared,” but that he hopes to teach others that living with one kidney is very possible. In fact, his own son had an underdeveloped kidney removed as a baby and has gone on to live a normal life, well into adulthood. His remaining kidney became “a super kidney,” Robert says, and he is in perfect health. Robert adds that since Rocio’s post went viral, he’s “more positive than he’s ever been” about his future and expresses his sincere gratitude to the Sandovals, and to all who have reached out and offered to help.
Now Robert will begin answering his texts and phone calls, one-by-one, hoping to find that match. We wish him all the best, and we thank the Sandovals for sharing this heartwarming story.
For more information on how you can sign up to be an organ donor, visit OrganDonor.gov.