Walt Disney World is frequently called “the most magical place on Earth” because of its ability to bring characters and worlds to life, unite people from all over the world, and restore a sense of child-like wonder in park-goers.
Yet sometimes Disney magic goes beyond that. In the case of Robert Leibowitz, it didn’t just help his mental health recover but his physical health as well.
We first reported on Leibowitz back in September when he worked his way through Disney Land wearing a t-shirt reading “In Need Of Kidney O Positive Call 917-597-2651.”
Since he had been on kidney donor waiting lists for years, and it wasn’t looking hopeful, he figured his best bet was walking around Disney.
“Where else am I going to get more exposure than Disney World with hundreds of thousands of people walking around every day?” he said to The Washington Post.
Rocio Yanira Sandoval just so happened to be at Disney that day with her husband, Juan. Juan noticed Leibowitz and immediately wanted to help.
“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!’,” Sandoval said on Facebook. “He gave us both a hug and said ‘Thank you, please share this with the world.’”
That’s exactly what she did. In sharing the photo, she received over 15,000 reactions and 91,000 shares.
On Tuesday Juan and I celebrated his birthday at Magic Kingdom. On our way out we saw this man pushing a teenage boy in…
Soon, Leibowitz’s shirt became a worldwide news story and calls from all of the world began coming in.
“The response has been absolutely amazing. I get very emotional about it,” Leibowitz told WFTV.
Still, it took a while to find a matching donor. Around 50 people had fully committed to the organ donor process but that number was later narrowed down to just three.
Yet, even among those three, nobody was an ideal match for Leibowitz.
Fortunately, Richie Sully of Fort Wayne, Indiana, was next to step up to the plate. After four years of waiting, Leibowitz finally had his donor!
“I called my kids, and my kids broke down,” Leibowitz told The Washington Post. “It was such a feeling of relief and happiness.”
Sully arrived in New York earlier this month and the two men soon found out they had a lot in common. By the time Leibowitz had given him a tour of the city, they had become good friends. On January 18, they headed to New York Presbyterian Hospital for surgery.
The operation was successful and both men went home to their families just a few days later.
“It’s not a big deal,” Sully told PIX 11. “If we could get people to understand how much of a big deal it’s not, we would have so many more donors.”
Both men are hopeful that all of this attention will allow for an increase in living kidney donations.
“Everybody has two kidneys,” Leibowitz said. “You have a spare. Share your spare.”
As for those looking for a kidney donor, Leibowitz had a message for them too:
“Don’t give up hope, your time will come. You have to stay positive.”