Uber driver donates kidney to passenger, sparking lifelong friendship

An Uber driver donated his kidney to a passenger, forever changing the trajectory of an elderly dialysis patient's life. 

 Uber ride.  (photo credit: FLICKR)
Uber ride.
(photo credit: FLICKR)

Some find conversations with cab drivers to be awkward and unpleasant, but a man's life was saved when he struck up a conversation with his Uber driver one fateful day in Vineland, New Jersey. 

That driver donated a kidney two months later, forever changing the trajectory of an elderly dialysis patient's life. 

In October 2021, Bill Sumiel was in need of a ride home from his dialysis center and Tim Letts arrived in an Uber to pick him up, according to local news source ABC6. 

Sumiel, in his 70s, has Type 2 diabetes and was suffering from kidney failure, getting dialysis treatments three times a week according to a report from the University of Delaware Daily, a publican from the institution where Sumiel received his rehab treatment after the replacement.

The right place at the right time

“I was coming from Cape May and was way north of Vineland already when I got the ride request, and not only did this trip bring me backward in the opposite direction but also further out of my way,” Letts told the Daily. “In retrospect, it was an absolute God moment. There’s no question about why the Uber app that has an algorithm designed to make things convenient took me so far out of my way.” 

 Illustrative image of dialysis machine in action (credit: Wikimedia Commons) Illustrative image of dialysis machine in action (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Daily also explained that Sumiel was not originally scheduled to be in the dialysis center that day. He had had a complication requiring him to come in and have a clot removed from his dialysis port. 

The two struck up a conversation during the 40-minute ride, and Sumiel told Letts of his medical woes. Letts, a US Army veteran in his 30s, then offered Sumiel his kidney. 

"He says, 'If you'll take my name and number, I'll give a kidney to you," Sumiel told ABC6. "I was shaking so hard I couldn't even write down his name and number."

Sumiel had been on the transplant list for years, the Daily reported. However, due to his age and overall health status, getting a kidney from the United Network of Organ Sharing (UNOS) was unlikely. He even shared his story on social media to try and track down a donor, but had no luck. 

A successful operation and lifelong friendship

The two turned out to be a match and the operation took place just a few weeks later. Because of Sumiel's age, ABC6 reported, he was told he needed a kidney immediately. 

According to local media reports, the two men became "lifelong friends" and according to ABC6, Letts has moved to Germany but still keeps in touch with Sumiel on Facebook. 

Sumiel celebrated his one-year kidney replacement anniversary in December 2022, and has been faithfully attending rehab sessions at the University of Delaware Health Exercise Counseling Clinic for nearly as long. 

"Giving a kidney is the gift of life and I feel so fortunate to have that gift," Sumiel told ABC6 in January. "I can almost live my life back to normal, and this work (at the University of Delaware's Exercise clinic for renal rehab) is getting me closer to that every day."