'Wife needs a kidney, O type blood': How a car window saved this mother's life

Phyllis Pinto, left, with one of her children and her donor, Heather Johnson. (Photo courtesy of Luis Pinto)
Phyllis Pinto, left, with one of her children and her donor, Heather Johnson. (Photo courtesy of Luis Pinto)

Social media just helped save a women’s life.

It’s all thanks to Luis Pinto: He decided to rely on the kindness of strangers online when he needed to find a kidney donor for his wife, Phyllis Pinto, who was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease four years ago. And it worked.

“We asked friends and family — there’s only so many of those, and there were no matches, nobody who said, ‘I’ll try.’ And I was like, what do I do?” Luis tells Yahoo Lifestyle by phone while sitting at his sleeping wife’s hospital bedside. “The only thing I could think of at that point was social media. Thank God that’s available.”

He explains that he was desperate at this point, because his wife, the mother of their two children, was in stage 4 kidney disease, stage 5 being complete kidney failure. At stage 4, kidney function is severely decreased. “So I was like, we have to find a donor, because the problem with her is that her veins are so small that dialysis was almost not going to be a possibility. That means that if her kidneys fail, my wife would not live more than 48 hours.”

Luis, who has diabetes and therefore cannot donate his kidney, had read that someone else in a similar position had found success after putting a sign in their car window, so he tried the same — for four years, driving around with a sign in his Jeep that read, “Wife Needs A Kidney, ‘O’ Blood Type,” along with his phone number.

“I’m always up and down the highway going to work in traffic, and I would see people take pictures of the back of my car, and they would just share and share and share,” he says. This past December, the search went viral, attracting half a million hits.

“It went all over the world. I had calls from as far as Dubai,” Luis says. “There are a lot of good people out there who want to do it. But they wouldn’t go to the next step, maybe they changed their minds.” Many people would call him, he explains, and he’d send them documents to fill out, but it would then go no further.

Until earlier this week.

“Then one day I was going home and I got a call from this lady Heather Johnson,” he says. He and Phyllis didn’t get their hopes up for fear of being disappointed. “My wife would be like, ‘Oh it’s just another person wasting our time,’” he recalls. “We got very discouraged. But I felt if these people are willing to call me, I had to at least answer them. Because you never know.” It’s a good thing he called Johnson back, because she turned out to be the answer to their prayers.

Heather Johnson, left, and Phyllis Pinto. (Photo: Courtesy of Luis Pinto)
Heather Johnson, left, and Phyllis Pinto. (Photo: Courtesy of Luis Pinto)

“She said, ‘I saw [the sign] and it just moved me, and I’d like to know more about it,’” says Luis, who learned that Johnson’s son was born with kidney issues, which is why this really touched her. “Down the line, when he gets much older, he will probably need a kidney,” he adds. “But right now, he’s doing fine with the treatments.”

Sensing how sincere Johnson was, Luis put her on the phone with Phyllis, “and they hit it off right off the bat.”

Finally, the stars were aligning. As luck would have it, Johnson did not live halfway around the world but just 45 minutes away from their hospital, in North Carolina. Further, the mom of three was the perfect match, not only with the right blood type, but able to pass physical, mental, and other health tests “with flying colors.”

They invited Johnson and her family over for Easter, and that was the first time they had all met in person. “It was the best Easter we could have ever hoped for,” says Luis. “The emotions were running so high. To finally meet this person one-on-one, her family and everything. It’s become a wonderful relationship. I was asking God, and he sent us Heather.”

Johnson has remained incredibly humble. “I didn’t feel like I was that special,” she told a local news station. “I just felt like God wanted me to help her. I didn’t think it was that big a deal.”

The surgery happened Tuesday, and both women are doing well. Johnson will be discharged on Thursday, while Phyllis is in recovery with the hopes of returning home Sunday.

“There’s nothing in this world I can do to repay her,” Luis says. “She’s just a sweet, wonderful person.” Johnson will be out of work for a little bit, so the Pinto family has raised some funds to help her during that time. “We wanted to do our part. This wonderful angel Heather, she’s so humble. She doesn’t want anything. I couldn’t ask for an angel like this if I tried. God and faith sent her to us.”

He has one other idea. “She’s never been to Disney World, so I’m trying to figure out how I can raise the funds to get her and her children to Disney World. This woman and her children deserve this.”

They have plenty of time to figure it out. “I told her she’s a part of my family, as far as I’m concerned, she’s my new sister. We’re going to take care of her, and she’ll always have a family with us.”

 

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