Here on Feel-Good Friday, I’ve written more than a few times about kidney recipients and their donors, because organ donation is not only a powerful gift of life, but it takes a truly sacrificial heart to choose to give up any part of one’s body for someone else. It is one thing when it is a relative. It is a whole other thing when a complete stranger chooses to take this step. Almost a year and a half ago, an Army veteran named Tim Letts stepped up and made this sacrifice. No big surprise there as our serving men are of that kind of mettle. What was amazing is that he did this for Bill Sumiel, a rideshare passenger who Letts had picked up from a dialysis appointment.
Sumiel’s story in and of itself is an absolute miracle, and their story is worthy of the Feel-Good Friday treatment.
Seventy-three-year-old Bill Sumiel developed diabetes in his 40s and ultimately developed kidney failure in his later years. In an interview with Local News 13 in Newark, Delaware, Sumiel said that his transplant team called him in July of 2021 and said that he needed a kidney transplant and that he could not wait for the prospect of being elevated on the list—he should actively be looking for a kidney. Sumiel had already been on the transplant list for three and a half years, but his age and physical circumstance meant that younger candidates in better health were probably ahead of him. According to government data, 17 people die each day waiting for an organ transplant. To offer the gift of any transplant, whether it be bone marrow, a kidney, liver, or lung is also an extensive process of testing and parameters. Statistically, only 30 percent of those who choose to be a living donor are actually able to do it.
Kidney dialysis enacts a particularly harsh toll on the body, especially the heart and mind. My mother had Alzheimer’s Disease on top of renal failure, and had to undergo regular dialysis. I cannot imagine not knowing who you are and not understanding what is happening with your body, and still having to undergo such a difficult journey. She maybe lasted a year, as her body finally gave out. In a strange way, this was a mercy, as Alzheimer’s patients often outlast their caregivers.
I also stood in prayer support with a friend whose younger brother suffered kidney failure and needed a transplant. Several years passed with him on regular dialysis and increasing hospital stays. He was on the brink of total deterioration when a donor match came through. His life was saved only after years of suffering and pain—toward the end of his illness journey, the mental toll had become as great as the physical. This young man was in his early 30s with a career as a personal trainer, so he was in peak physical condition before the kidney failure, and as much as he could, maintained his health during it.
So, imagine what Bill Sumiel was experiencing at his more advanced age. After one particular dialysis session, he had no idea that his fortunes were about to change. When Tim Letts arrived to pick him up from a dialysis session, this is what he saw:
“I could see in the rearview mirror this hopelessness. He looked like he was at the end of his road,” Letts added.
Sumiel needed to get home from his regular treatment at the dialysis centre. So the New Jersey resident called for an Uber and met his driver, Letts, at the centre.
Talking to a news channel, Letts, recalled Sumiel’s pick-up point was further away from where he was, and he went to pick him up.
When Letts picked Bill up at the dialysis centre, the two men had a chat during the ride.
After finding out that Tim was a veteran, enjoyed fishing, and drove Uber on weekends to make extra money, Bill said he needed a kidney transplant.
“Tim was so friendly that I felt at ease explaining what was going on in my life,” said Sumiel.
When Letts delivered Sumiel back to his residence, he said to him: “If you’ll take my name and number, I’d like to donate a kidney to you.”
“Bill was just so genuine, it’s something that I’d considered doing [at the time] for a little while now, Letts told News Nation.
“When Bill was talking to me, I couldn’t help but think, good people need good people to stand by them. With that outlook on it, Bill’s a great person, so it was such an easy decision.”