NEW YORK, NY – In an act that most would label heroic, an Indiana man hopes his actions inspire others to realize kidney donation is not as scary as it seems.
It all started back in August, when Hurricane Harvey was wrecking havoc down in Houston.
Rob said his friend Jessica, a nurse in Houston at the time, kept harping on him to donate blood for victims of Hurricane Harvey.
After stalling for awhile, he decided to go donate. While he was at the clinic, he noticed a text from Jessica referencing a viral Facebook post from a man losing hope.
It was this picture, from the account of 60-year-old Robert Leibowitz, that got Sully’s attention:
After learning the donation wait list was seven years long, Rob wore the shirt everyday during a vacation at Disney World. It quickly went viral on Facebook, and that’s how Sully and Leibowitz first connected.
During the blood donation process, Sully learned that he is also O positive and could possibly donate one of his kidneys to Leibowitz.
“If I can donate blood, why not donate a kidney?” Sully said.
After calling Rob, Sully said he didn’t hear back for five days and assumed Rob had tons of offers to sort through.
Before they were a match, Leibowitz had a lot of people “flake out” on him. Because of HIPAA, hospitals were not allowed to keep Rob up to date on potential matches.
Finally on a Friday, Sully heard back from Leibowitz and Sully quickly explained that he was serious and wanted to help save his life.
After two rounds of testing in Fort Wayne, where Sully has lived for the last 20 years, doctors in the program wanted him to come to New York to complete final tests.
“I’m not crazy…but I am from Indiana,” Richie said during their first call.
The two stayed in touch prior to their first meeting in early December. After hugs and handshakes, the unlikely pair spent the whole day together in the city.
Sully said they discussed both of their divorces, had sushi, explored Times Square and were able to visit an icon’s home on an infamous date.
While talking about their families, Rob learned that Sully’s daughter’s middle name is Lennon.
It just so happened that on the date of their first meeting, Dec. 8, John Lennon was killed in 1980 in front of his NYC apartment. The two big Beatles fans decided to take a trip up through Central Park to The Dakota, where Lennon was killed.
Three days later, Leibowitz’ life would change forever.
Thanks in part to losing 35 pounds and a strict diet, Sully received the news from doctors that he was finally approved to save Rob’s life.
After getting his hopes up through multiple potential donors, “he told me to just send a thumbs up or thumbs down when I received the news,” Sully said.
Sully immediately sent Leibowitz “millions” of thumbs up emojis, but was surprised he didn’t hear anything back.
Not understanding why, Sully decided to call Rob to share the great news.
“Hello this is Robert,” Leibowitz replied in a depressing tone. He never saw Sully’s emojis because Richie accidentally texted the wrong Rob, a man he met on the subway.
Sully said Leibowitz’ tone quickly changed and he was elated that he would finally receive a kidney. Leibowitz told him other patrons on the subway had to think he was crazy when he heard the news, as he jumped up and down ferociously.
The two were prepped and the surgery was successfully performed last Thursday, Jan. 18.
Now, the 60-year-old man from Brooklyn, whose kidneys were operating at 5 percent, gets to spend many more years with his family.
Prior to the surgery, renal tests came back at 9, very high and Rob didn’t have much time left.
Since the surgery, Sully’s kidney has taken over for Leibowitz and his renal test came back under a 1.
Sully said he doesn’t want to be labeled a hero and Leibowitz’ son’s Facebook post directly after the surgery added extra assurance he did what was right.
“I’ve cried more in that last two months than I have in my entire life…when someone asks ‘why did you do this?’ I just reply with Doug’s post,” Sully said.
When asked if his life is returning a little bit to normal, Sully quickly replied, “tonight was my first Diet Coke in months, and it was the greatest thing I’ve ever had.”
If you’re wondering how Sully funded this, he took to YouCaring.com, a crowdfunding site.
Sully said donations didn’t really start to roll in until they officially became a match in December. Co-workers at the Home Depot he works at got together to raise around $1,200.
To date, Sully was able to raise over $7,000 to fund his multiple stays and testing in New York.
This week, the pair has met with numerous national media outlets, including CBS News and The Today Show. He plans to donate the rest to raise awareness about kidney disease and to animal shelters.
Sully said he hopes to head home on Wednesday, but more media interviews could keep him in the Big Apple a little bit longer.
To register as a kidney donor in Indiana, click here.