After grabbing a late lunch on a recent Friday, CNN editor Lilit Marcus dropped off her dry cleaning then popped into her local Target to grab some prescriptions. She was trying to make the most of her Friday afternoon before the weekend and squeeze in as many errands as she could.
While heading to the checkout, Lilit spied something strange, something noticeably out of place. She stopped and couldn’t help but stare.
There was a man wearing a black coat with the straps of a backpack draped over his shoulders. On the bag was a sign.
She snapped a photo but when she glanced up from her phone, the man was gone. She wanted to ask his permission to share his message of desperation with the world, but since he had disappeared, she decided to take a chance and post the photo on Twitter anyway.
“Within a few hours, my picture of this man — whom I’ve since identified as Raymond Thompson — had gone viral.”
Lilit couldn’t believe that celebs like Evan Rachel Wood and Zach Braff shared it; tennis legend Martina Navratilova did, too. Actress Sarah Hyland recently had a second kidney transplant and the photo struck a chord with her, so she eagerly shared it.
The man in the photo, Raymond, lives in Brooklyn with his wife Mylen and their four-year-old daughter Rachel. He doesn’t use Twitter and had no idea that his photo had been retweeted more than 23,000 times.
But when his phone began filling up with texts and voicemails from unfamiliar numbers from people wanting to offer Mylen a kidney, he knew something was up. Lilit decided to contact Raymond and explain what had happened; he knew it was her when she phoned because others had shared screenshots of her tweet.
When their daughter was just two years old, Mylen was diagnosed with kidney disease. The couple couldn’t believe it.
“She called me at work and said, ‘Babe, you need to come home right now.’ She said, ‘I can’t feel my right side. It’s numb.’ ” Now she goes to a [dialysis] center for three hours, three days a week. There’s a machine that filters your blood. It takes a lot out of you.”
Everyone in Mylen and Raymond’s family was tested to determine if they were a match, but none were. Raymond had learned about Rob Leibowitz who wore an “In need of kidney” T-shirt while he visited Disney World and felt inspired by his success story for nabbing a much needed kidney.
The family doesn’t need financial support or a GoFundMe page to cover medical expenses thanks to having terrific insurance. They just need a kidney.
“I had a few people walk up to me and try to give me money. I refuse that every single time.”
People from as far away as Pakistan and Australia have called wanting to help, so Mylen is now receiving care at NYU Langone Hospital so that all of the strangers could be tested to see if they’re a match. Becca Joyner volunteered to be tested after seeing the retweet from actress Patti Murin who plays Anna in the Broadway production of “Frozen.”
Becca works as a county clerk in North Carolina and endures the painful effects of Crohn’s disease. She recently had surgery to remove part of her intestine and knows how scared Mylen feels.
“I have been in and out of the hospital more times than I can count on my hand. I was terrified. Afterward I spent a week in the hospital, so I know what it’s like. Something was just telling me to reach out and see if you can help in any way.”
As 2019 gets underway, Raymond will be reaching out to those who have contacted him. If his ploy to draw out a kidney donor with a sign works and saves Mylen’s life, he vows he isn’t done fighting though.
“Sign up to be organ donors. There are so many people that actually need organs, especially kidneys. You have two and can live a healthy life with just one. Just sign up.”
The wait for a kidney can be a nerve-wracking and lengthy period. Of the almost 100,000 people needing a kidney last year, only approximately 20 percent were matched with a donor, reports the United Network of Organ Sharing.
Lilit testified that after her encounter with Raymond and his sign, she was compelled to take action, too. She has since signed up to be a bone marrow donor and will be giving blood.