South Sound News

Act of kindness connects strangers, saves Army vet's life

DUPONT, Wash. — Starbucks barista Nicole McNeil has crafted countless coffees over the years.

She knows the regulars’ orders by heart, including Vince Villano's.

"It's a trenta vanilla sweet cream cold brew, but he wanted full pumps of vanilla,” said McNeil.

Villano has been coming to the Starbucks in DuPont for years. McNeil said there was always something about him that stood out.

"He kind of seemed like an Eeyore, just a little bit grouchy, a little bit of a sad sack all the time,” she said.

One day, in January 2017, Villano seemed extra down, so McNeil asked him what was wrong.

"I said, 'I have the time, let me take this time,'” said McNeil.

The two sat and talked. Villano opened up, revealing he has polycystic kidney disease.

"It's such an unpredictable disease. The only thing predictable about it is that you lose your kidney function,” Villano said.

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​Polycystic kidney disease is a genetic disease that causes cysts to form on Villano’s kidneys. There's no treatment or cure. Villano’s only hope is a kidney transplant.

"They're functioning at 4 percent,” Villano said. “We're at the critical point where, if it doesn't happen, then I would've gotten on dialysis anyway."

As fate would have it, something happened. McNeil went home and told her husband, Justin McNeil, about her conversation with Villano.

"I said, ‘I've got a kidney, you know, we could do this. I think I'm willing to do that.’ It didn't take long,” Justin McNeil said.

The families began spending time together at birthdays and holidays. They quickly found out they had a lot in common. Villano and Justin McNeil are both Army veterans; they love hunting, fishing and camping. To top it off, they're a perfect donor match.

"God puts a lot of people in different places and everyone has the capacity to give something,” Justin said.

Justin said donating his kidney was a simple decision.

"It's kind of a life-and-death thing. People get on this list and live out their life on this list, so it's not really a question. You don't get to second guess it,” he said.

For months, Villano and Justin have been driving back and forth from DuPont to University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, getting ready for Wednesday, which is the day Justin gives Villano a kidney.

Villano said he's more thankful than ever this Christmas. The New Year is bringing him a new chance at life, and the McNeils have become his second family.

"In general, having them as friends, family, I wouldn't want it to not be this way. I can't imagine not having them in my life,” Villano said.

The surgery also happens to fall on Justin’s 36th birthday.