Meet Mariana Villarreal: A Hooters Waitress Who Gave One Customer The Gift Of Life

What started as small talk saved his life.

Never underestimate the kindness of strangers.

This is a lesson that Hooters waitress Mariana Villarreal from Roswell, Georgia imparted on one of her customers in a big way. Last week, Villarreal donated one of her kidneys to Don Thomas, a regular patron at the restaurant. Their saga began in a rather unassuming way. While providing her usual stellar service, she casually asked Thomas the next time he'd be in and visit her.

"[H]e said he couldn't certain days because of dialysis," Villarreal told A Plus in an email. "I didn't know what dialysis was so I did my research. There I found out he had kidney failure and learned a little about his life style."

Thomas had lost both of his kidneys to cancer and required 8-hour-long dialysis treatments to sustain his life.

The harrowing realities of kidney failure were fresh on Villarreal’s mind, as she recently lost her grandmother in the same manner.

Mariana Villarreal
Mariana Villarreal

She wasn't able to help her grandmother, who wasn't a candidate for a donor organ, but she was going to do everything she could to make sure that Thomas did not suffer the same fate. Because a person only needs one kidney to survive, she decided to give her second kidney away.

"In my life I have always been a giving person and always tried to help others in need," Villarreal's email continued. "My family has been through so many life-ending illnesses that when I saw him I couldn't bear to see him die. It was in my heart that I made the decision to get tested and donate."

In order to ensure that Villarreal would be a good match and Thomas wouldn't reject the organ, she had to undergo a significant amount of testing to determine the chance that Thomas' body would accept the new organ.

"My biggest fear was to fail one of the test and receive a no from the hospital," her email stated. "The biggest joy was seeing 3 small scars showing a new life."

The surgery took place on Friday, and Villarreal describes her recovery as going quite well.

Mariana Villarreal
Mariana Villarreal

"My healing has been amazing! God has been listening to all of the prayers and I know there's a lot. I was up and walking that same night and the following morning after the surgery I was able to go home," she explained in her email. "The pain feels like I went to the gym and had a really good abdominal workout. I only feel sore nothing more. 

Mariana Villarreal
Mariana Villarreal

Though her courage is being widely celebrated, her friends and family were not immediately on board with her decision to give away one of her kidneys to someone she didn't really know.

"Everyone thought I was crazy and tried to stop me when they found out I wanted to donate until each one of them met Don. After they met him they were supportive and right now they are very happy and proud of what I did."

At the request of many of her new followers who were inspired by her story, a GoFundMe account has been started to assist Villarreal over the next six weeks, as she won't be able to work.

Villarreal is a true hero, and joins a group of 5,500 individuals who are living kidney donors.

Mariana Villarreal
Mariana Villarreal

"Donation might be too extreme for everyone to do, but helping others in the smallest of ways like opening the door or pick up something that has fallen means a lot," Villarreal explained. "The small random acts of kindness can begin a chain of good deeds and this world would be a whole lot better."

Not only did the procedure give Thomas a new lease on live, but Villarreal reports feeling like a new person as well. She tells A Plus that she thinks more about what she eats and has been inspired to take better care of her own health.

While a total of 17,000 kidney transplants will be performed in the U.S. this year, it's hardly enough for the over 101,000 people who wait on the transplant list. If you would like to help out, consider becoming a living donor or donating to organizations who help perform these lifesaving operations.

[All images provided by Mariana Villarreal and have been used with permission]