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How a barista’s concern for her customer ended up saving his life



Cerith Gardiner - published on 10/18/19

One simple question and a generous husband saved this war veteran's life.

Mom of three Nicole McNeil recently showed the world that being a good barista is so much more than serving people a steaming cup of coffee. Working at a Starbucks in DuPont, Washington, the friendly barista has gotten to know some of her customers, their drinking habits, and their moods over the years. During one particular shift when a regular, Vince Villano, popped in for his usual cup of “Trenta Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew, full pumps,” McNeil was able to notice that something was off.

After she finished work she sat down to chat with 41-year-old Villano, an army veteran sergeant — coincidentally, the same rank as McNeil’s army husband — and discovered the cause of his distress. He had been suffering from polycystic kidney disease for about 11 years and his kidneys were starting to give up, requiring Villano to have dialysis. With his name on a transplant list, the former emergency medical technician didn’t think he stood much chance of receiving the vital organ, which made him worry about being there for his two children, aged 18 and 20, Kanton and Savanna.

McNeil was moved by the conversation and spoke to her husband, Justin, about Villano’s predicament. And this is where the story becomes a little unbelievable …

Without batting an eyelid, Justin immediately offered his own kidney to help the war veteran. Initially McNeil was taken aback by her husband’s offer, but then she realized: “He cares about people almost more than any anybody I’ve ever met. He’s the kindest person I’ve ever met. So, when he said, ‘I’ll give my kidney,’ it seemed like, ‘OK, sure. Yeah, you will,'” she shared with

The two men met up and bonded right away. As the families grew closer they decided to test if Justin’s kidney would be compatible. The test results showed, incredibly, that the pair were matched as closely as they could without being biologically related. So, after spending Christmas together, the pair went off to be operated on the next day.

Thankfully, the operation was a big success with doctors believing the donation will allow Villano another 20 years next to his family and new friends.

The story is beautiful and inspiring in so many ways. Not only does it show the importance of looking out for one another — and a friendly chat over a coffee! — it also demonstrates how an incredible act of generosity towards a complete stranger can save lives and create lasting friendships.

You can read the whole story on the Starbucks website here.


Read more:
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