The door opens and a face she recognizes walks in. He shuffles up to the counter and places his usual order, and her instincts begin to scream at her. Something is not right.
Pausing for a few moments and wondering if she was about to cross a line, she took a deep breath and asked her question anyway. But she never imagined that her words were about to save a life.
Vince Villano, a military veteran and Washington resident, had become a regular at the local Starbucks in his hometown of DuPont. He’d gotten into a routine and would stop by before work each morning to order one particular item.
Years went by, but he’d be there every morning like clockwork. Naturally, the employees at Starbucks began to recognize the retired sergeant and knew exactly what he would order. But, on one fateful day, the barista on duty had a bad feeling…
Nicole Mcneil was usually on duty when Vince came in for his morning coffee. It was a point of pride with her that she knew her customer so well that she’d begin to get his order ready the minute he walked in. In fact, she even had a nickname for him that referenced his favorite drink — a trick that made it easier for her to remember her regulars’ usual orders.
But, other than the nickname she’d devised for him, she knew nothing else about the mysterious man she served every morning. But that was about to change.
In January 2017, Vince walked off the freezing street and into Starbucks as usual. Nicole recognized him as soon as he walked in the doors and went to prepare what she knew he’d order. But there was something different about him today.
He was holding himself differently, with his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his long coat. Looking at his face again, Nicole took a double-take.
A Break In Routine
Vince had gotten into a predictable routine of stopping by Starbucks to grab a coffee before he started his day. Nicole assumed that he, like most people, looked forward to his early-morning kick of caffeine to jumpstart his tired mind.
But what Nicole didn’t know was that Vince’s morning routine had become a necessity after a particularly turbulent time in his life…
When Vince was younger, he aspired to pursue higher education at College of the Siskiyous. The college, located in California, boasted sportsmen such as Dan Hawkins and Mark Acre as some of their most notable alumni. Vince had his eye on one particular subject: emergency medicine management and medicine.
But, unfortunately, Uncle Sam had his eye on him.
A Lost Decade
After Vince had gained valuable experience at the college, he found himself in the military. And, before he knew it, he had given more than a decade of his life to serving his country and had reached the rank of sergeant.
He had been working as an emergency medical technician and he had seen many things that still haunted him. So, when he finally left the army, he decided that his life needed to change.
Change Of Pace
Once Vince had completed his service, he decided to move on from it by opening up a branch of the national Farmers Insurance company, operating out of Lakewood, Washington. He was relieved to finally live a standard 9 to 5 life. He thought the days where his life was on the line were behind him.
But Vince had no idea that darkness still loomed ahead.
Like many other servicemen, it was difficult for Vince to adjust to living a civilian life again. It was at this point that he fell into his very necessary routine, beginning his day with a visit to Starbucks for his daily cup of coffee. For years, he was served by the same barista.
But neither Nicole McNeil nor Vince Villano had any idea that fate was about to throw them together. It all began with one simple question.
Chained By Fate
Nicole Mcneil was an ambitious student. After completing her studies at Stadium High School, which is located in Tacoma, she knew she was destined for greater things. The future Starbucks barista enthusiastically enrolled at the University of Washington, where she threw herself into a construction management degree.
She earned her diploma in 2005, and then she met her future husband. Coincidentally, he and Vince had something in common…
Nicole and her husband went on to have three children. And it was pure coincidence that Nicole’s husband, Justin McNeil, had also served in the army. And he, like Vince, had also left the military as a sergeant.
Of course, Nicole had no idea that her regular Starbucks customer had so much in common with her husband… at first.
A Unique Position
Nicole had been working at Starbucks since 2014, but she still didn’t know Vince well. But, as she was the one who served him every morning, she became familiar with his routine and knew exactly what he would order.
But, unbeknown to Vince, working at the coffeehouse for all those years had put Nicole in a unique position.
In Nicole’s profession, she came in contact with a lot of people on a daily basis. Like others in the service industry, her job revolved around being attuned to her customers.
So, when she began to recognize her regular customers, she quickly picked up on things like body language and changes in mood. That’s why she noticed that something was wrong with Vince immediately.
Reading Her Customers
Nicole later went on to explain on Starbucks’ official website: “As a barista, we can really tell when our customers are sad and when they’re hurting.”
And the extraordinarily perceptive barista and mother-of-three was the first to notice her regular customer’s gloomy expression on that fateful day in 2017.
The Day In Question
On one particularly cold morning, Nicole’s shift behind the counter was almost over. Luckily, she still had time to serve her regular customer, Vince.
Having known him for years, she was familiar with his usual demeanor and how he usually behaved throughout the week. According to Nicole, Vince’s expression rarely changed.
“A Bit Glum”
In an interview with MailOnline, Nicole revealed more details about how Vince’s daily visits went: “Even when he seemed happy, he always looked a bit glum,” she recalled. “And [he] wanted to just get his coffee and go.”
But one morning, Vince’s face looked different. On that day, he wasn’t his “glum” self. There was much more to it than that…
Asking Him A Question
After she prepared Vince’s usual “30-ounce vanilla cold brew with extra vanilla,” Nicole decided to ask him a question. “Is everything OK?” She asked, genuinely concerned about her regular customer’s wellbeing.
But Vince seemed reluctant to open up. Nicole, undeterred, pressed him for an answer. But she never expected her question to result in one of the most significant exchanges of her life.
“I said, ‘I’m off in 15 to 20 minutes, we can sit down for half an hour and chat before I pick up my kids,’” Nicole told MailOnline.
“When I asked [Vince], he said, ‘It would take too long to tell you.’ I said, ‘I actually do have the time today’.” And so, Vince began to tell the barista what was troubling him.
So Vince started to talk. Nicole quickly discovered that Vince was a veteran, but was surprised to learn that Vince’s problem wasn’t about the transition from soldier to civilian.
It was about something far less psychological.
But it was just as complicated: Vince had Polycystic Kidney Disease, a genetic condition that causes cyst-ridden kidneys to enlarge and shut down. It was a condition that plagued Vince’s family — one of his great-grandparents had passed away from it.
The disease can cause some serious complications, from high blood pressure to kidney failure.
Polycystic Kidney Disease
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website: “Polycystic kidney disease is an inherited disorder in which clusters of cysts develop primarily within your kidneys. [They cause] your kidneys to enlarge and lose function over time. Cysts are noncancerous round sacs containing fluid.”
The description continues: “The cysts vary in size, and they can grow very large.”
Out Of His Control
“When I was first diagnosed, I felt like, ‘Well, I’m dying,’” Vince recalled on the Starbucks website.
“It was not my first encounter with mortality. I had some situations in the military. But this was really out of my control. There’s nothing you can do. It’s kind of a black cloud that hangs over your head all the time.”
By 2016, Vince was on a debilitating dialysis machine. In the days leading up to his talk with Nicole, he had been told by doctors that he needed a kidney transplant — and that getting one was a matter of life and death.
Vince’s story stayed with Nicole for the rest of the day. That evening, she lay down with her husband and told him about her regular customer’s predicament. Then, Justin made a suggestion.
A Generous Offer
Nicole told MailOnline, “Right away, [Justin] said, ‘Well, I have a kidney. He can have mine.’ It doesn’t surprise me. He’s that generous and that kind – and it doesn’t surprise any of our friends who’ve heard about this. They’re like, ‘Of course Justin would do this’.”
“I invited [Vince] to my birthday party,” she revealed. “And then he started coming over for parties on the holidays, and then he and Justin started hanging out on their own.”
Part Of The Family
It wasn’t long before Vince had become part of Nicole’s family. She smiled when she saw how well Vince and her husband were hitting it off. Their three children loved Vince, too.
Even though Vince was aware of Justin’s offer, he had his doubts. He knew the chances of Justin being a match were incredibly slim. But, despite this, Justin underwent all the necessary tests. He prayed that he would be a match…
“Testing to see if you can donate a kidney begins with a blood test,” the Alina Health website says on its website.
“The test will determine your blood type and if it will match the recipient’s blood. If your blood type is compatible with the recipient, two more blood tests will be done (tissue typing and cross-matching).” The process lasted 12 months, after which Justin received some incredible news.
An Easy Answer
The results confirmed that Justin was indeed a match! Without wasting time, the procedure was scheduled for December 26 — the day after Justin’s 36th birthday. And Justin had no regrets.
Justin said, “I felt like (offering to donate) was a pretty easy answer. There wasn’t a lot of thinking about it. It was let’s do this. I can do that if I got two, right? I can give one so that was it. In the end, it really is a life-or-death question. And so it makes it a non-question.”
When the time finally came, Vince and Justin were rolled into the operating room to complete the procedure. Nicole was ecstatic when she learned that the transplant was a success, making an announcement later that day.
For Vince, receiving a new kidney meant that his life would be extended by 20 years, at the very least.