When Karen Aguayo was hanging out with her college friends at the mall, she perhaps never expected to meet someone with such a heartbreaking story. In the end, though, she made time to speak to the stranger – and after doing so, she felt compelled to tell the world about him.
Aguayo is a freshman student at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. And, one day, she and some of her college friends headed down to the city’s Christown Spectrum mall. Something pretty special happened during that trip, however; the story would even eventually make national headlines.
It all started when Aguayo and her pals were in Costco. As they were browsing the aisles, though, Aguayo noticed something out of the corner of her eye. In particular, she clocked that there was something particularly interesting about a fellow shopper.
It was all to do with what the guy was wearing. That being said, he wasn’t in fancy dress or anything else outlandish: all he had on was a regular T-shirt and pants. Nevertheless, the message on the back of his shirt stopped Aguayo in her tracks.
Specifically, on the reverse of the man’s T-shirt were the following words: “Kidney donor needed. Type B+. Ask me how.” And, as soon as the message had sunk in, Aguayo knew that she had to stop and talk to that man. “It felt like it was the right thing to do,” she said to The Arizona Republic in March 2018.
Indeed, the message on the shirt had struck somewhat of a chord with the college student. “Once I read his shirt, I felt something in my heart. It’s not every day that you see shirts that say that, and that was a first for my friends and I,” Aguayo continued to the newspaper.
It turned out that the stranger in Costco was 67-year-old Robert Duran. And the reason he was wearing the shirt was heartbreaking: he had kidney failure and so was having to endure thrice-weekly dialysis treatment.
Duran’s kidney disease therefore meant that he needed an organ transplant to survive – but he hadn’t had much luck in acquiring one before that visit to Costco. Even though he had been on the waiting list for a donor for four years, disappointingly a match had been nowhere to be found.
Aguayo and her friends also learned that Duran had had his T-shirt custom-made after an entire year on the waiting list with no matches. Ever since then he had been regularly wearing the shirt in the hope of catching the right person’s eye.
Indeed, Duran had made sure to put on the T-shirt before every time he and his wife had gone shopping. But, even more heartbreakingly, Aguayo found out that Duran had sometimes worn it around the airport when he didn’t even have a flight booked.
“[My wife and I] go all over the place wearing [the T-shirts],” Duran later said to The Arizona Republic. “We are just hoping someone sees them.” Finally, though, someone had noticed Duran’s shirt – and Aguayo chose to help this man with his mission to find a donor.
Aguayo recognized, however, that the fastest way to spread the word about something today is via social media. So she decided to take to Twitter to share Duran’s story in the hope of raising awareness of his plight. And on March 28, 2018, she posted a tweet that snowballed.
Of that tweet, Aguayo explained to The Arizona Republic, “I decided to post it on social media because I thought that maybe someone out there that has a Twitter [account], can donate their [kidney] or just help with a simple retweet to find him a donor.” Little did the student know at the time, however, that she would create a huge social media storm.
Indeed, Aguayo’s tweet went viral. All she did, however, was share a couple of photos of Duran with a short message explaining how they met and that he needed a donor. She also asked for people to retweet her post – which they did in their thousands.
In just under a month, in fact, Aguayo’s message was retweeted over 260,000 times, and more than 200,000 people liked the post. Not only that, but the comments kept on rolling in. And even better, plenty of generous people offered up their own kidneys to Duran.
A fundraising page was even set up in Duran’s name; so far, $430 of the $500 goal has been raised to help with any medical expenses that he may incur. The messages of support flooded in on the donations page, too. One well-wisher even said that they also had the B+ blood type and “would love” to donate their kidney to him.
Meanwhile, Duran himself was extremely grateful to Aguayo and her friends for stopping to talk him and subsequently sharing his story on social media. “I think of them as [saints],” he said to The Arizona Republic. “I think the Lord brought them down for me.” But the search for a donor is still not over.
And Aguayo explained as much in a message posted to Twitter on March 30. There, she wrote that there were “several potential donors” but that nothing was set in stone yet. She added that Duran would let her know if a match was found.
The quest for a donor has proven very difficult for Duran, however. His wife has been suffering, too – Duran told The Arizona Republic that the wait for a kidney was “tearing her apart.” Sadly, though, Duran is not alone in needing life-saving surgery. He is one of over 2,100 people in Arizona currently requiring organ transplants, according to figures supplied by the Donor Network of Arizona.
Not only that, but new kidneys are particularly in demand, with over 95,000 people in the U.S. currently needing replacement organs of that kind. However, thanks to Aguayo’s efforts, Duran’s story is out there now. Let’s hope, then, that social media works its magic and gets Duran off that waiting list soon.