When A Server Noticed This Veteran Looking Upset, She Asked Him One Question That Saved His Life

It’s a cold day in January, and military veteran Vince Villano has popped into his local Starbucks for his usual order. But on this occasion he’s sporting a somewhat sad demeanor, which Nicole McNeil quickly picks up on. Then, just a few moments later, the barista poses the customer a question that unbelievably saves his life.

A resident of DuPont, Washington, Vince was a regular visitor at Starbucks over the course of a few years. Like many other customers, he frequented the establishment prior to starting work, opting for one item in particular. So with that in mind, the retired sergeant became a recognizable face to the employees.

Indeed, Nicole certainly picked up on Vince’s daily routine, as she prepared his regular order most of the time. And given the frequency of his visits, the barista even developed a nickname for him, relating to his choice of drink. Yet beyond that, she knew nothing else about the DuPont resident.

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However, that all changed in January 2017. As previously mentioned, Vince walked into his Starbucks as usual, but he appeared quite down when he collected his order. However, thanks to Nicole’s perceptiveness, the veteran’s life was altered forever – just with the fortune of a quick chat. And perhaps it’d all started with something we all take for granted, our daily routines.

Now, whether we realize it or not, we all have our own set routines throughout a normal day. As such, these can carry on for a number of years, especially if they fit into our respective daily schedules. For instance, a morning workout might become the norm before heading off to work.

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In Vince’s case, though, he got into a routine of going to his local coffeehouse at the start of the day. After all, a tasty caffeine beverage can do wonders in shaking off the early morning cobwebs. But the frequent trips to Starbucks only started a few years ago, following a hectic period in his life.

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When Vince was younger, he pursued a higher education at College of the Siskiyous, which is located in California. That university has also housed a number of different sportsmen down the years, like Dan Hawkins and Mark Acre. As for the veteran, he took a real interest in one particular subject, studying emergency medicine management/paramedicine.

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After gaining that experience at college, Vince soon found himself in the military, becoming a sergeant as time went on. In fact, he’d been an emergency medical technician in the army, with the spell lasting for around a decade. From there, the former college student took his career in a different direction.

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Indeed, Vince decided to try his hand in the insurance sector after the army. Eventually, he opened up his own branch of the national Farmers Insurance company, operating out of Lakewood, Washington. And in terms of the services he provides, the DuPont resident posted a description on his LinkedIn profile.

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As Vince went on to explain, “Veteran owned and operated, the Villano Agency is happy to serve the Olympia, Tacoma and Seattle areas. We provide a low pressure experience with extreme attention to detail in advising our clients on which protections to take advantage of in protecting their assets. [This relates] to home, auto, business and life insurance.”

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At that point, Vince fell into the aforementioned routine where he began his day at the nearby Starbucks. And over the next few years, he was greeted by the same barista who served up his usual order. Her name was Nicole McNeil, but not even she could’ve predicted what eventually happened between the pair.

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As a youngster, Nicole was a student at Stadium High School, which is located in Tacoma, Washington. And she concluded her studies there back in 2001, yet that didn’t signal the end of her education. With a clear idea in mind, the future Starbucks employee then looked to go to college.

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In the end, Nicole enrolled at the University of Washington, where she studied construction management. Following some hard work, she earned her diploma in 2005. As for life at home, the graduate built a strong family unit over the next few years alongside her husband. And he coincidentally shared something in common with Vince.

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Yes, much like Vince, Nicole’s husband Justin McNeil is also a military veteran, ending his career in the army as a sergeant, too. However, the mom wasn’t aware of that remarkable coincidence while she served her regular at first. In any case, Nicole and Justin are the parents of three children, who were all born over the course of six years.

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Although Nicole had been working at the coffeehouse since 2014, she didn’t really know Vince that well. But as a barista, she became very familiar with his daily routine there, memorizing his standard order. In addition to that, the parent’s role at Starbucks put her in a rather unique position.

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For you see, certain jobs allow people to gauge the body language of others. Those in the service industry could definitely attest to that, as they might begin to recognize customers from previous visits. So if they’re able to build rapport over time, the employee can then note any obvious changes in mood.

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And Nicole was no different in that regard, as she went on to explain to Starbucks’ official website in December 2018. The mother said, “As a barista, we can really tell when our customers are sad and when they’re hurting.” On that note, her powers of perception came into play at the start of 2017.

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On one particular day, Nicole’s shift behind the counter was coming to a close. But she still had time to serve Vince when he arrived. By this point, the barista was already fairly aware of his standard demeanor throughout the week. According to her, the former sergeant displayed the same look on most occasions.

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Speaking to MailOnline, Nicole revealed more about Vince’s Starbucks’ visits in December 2018. “Even when he seemed happy, he always looked a bit glum,” she recalled. “And [he] wanted to just get his coffee and go.” Yet the veteran appeared to be in a really sad mood when his server saw him on this occasion.

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For after Vince ordered his “30-ounce vanilla cold brew with extra vanilla,” Nicole posed him a question. Indeed, she was curious as to what was troubling her regular customer, but he seemed a little reluctant to open up. Undeterred, the graduate persisted in her search for an answer, leading to a significant moment.

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“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’.”

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From there, Nicole finally got the answer she was looking for. As it turned out, Vince had been living with a medical condition called polycystic kidney disease, better known as PKD. This was a genetic condition that had plagued his family for generations, with one of his great-grandparents dying from it.

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Keeping this in mind, the Mayo Clinic provided a breakdown of the condition on its website. The post read, “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.”

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It continued, “The cysts vary in size, and they can grow very large. “Having many cysts or large cysts can damage your kidneys. Polycystic kidney disease also can cause cysts to develop in your liver and elsewhere in your body. The disease can cause serious complications, including high blood pressure and kidney failure.”

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In Vince’s case, he was diagnosed when he turned 30, and he’d been coping with PKD for around a decade. But his world was turned upside down in 2016, when his physicians informed him that his condition was getting worse. Due to that, the DuPont resident needed to be hooked up to a dialysis machine for hours at a time.

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Unfortunately for Vince, his kidneys had ballooned in size and they began to have an adverse effect on his vital organs. Given the situation, he was informed that he needed a transplant, otherwise the PKD would take his life. Suddenly, the retired sergeant’s demeanor at Starbucks made all the sense in the world.

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“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.”

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Meanwhile, Vince’s heartbreaking story stuck with Nicole for the rest of that day, as she joined Justin in bed. There, the couple spoke about their respective days, which led her to recall the exchange at work. However, no one could’ve predicted what transpired next, as her husband made a suggestion.

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Yes, 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’.” Following that bombshell, the mom started to have a think.

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And a short time after that fateful conversation at the coffeehouse, Nicole looked to bring Vince and Justin together. “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.”

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Before long, Vince was looked upon as a new member of Nicole and Justin’s family, hitting it off with the latter. In addition to that, the army veteran also endeared himself to their three children. As a father-of-two himself, he encouraged the trio to give mixed martial arts a try, something he had loved in the past.

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As for Justin’s offer, Vince was very much aware of it, but he remained doubtful. For you see, the chances of the pair being a match appeared to be incredibly slim. Despite that, Nicole’s husband pressed ahead with tests to see if he would be a viable candidate for his friend.

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Regarding the testing process, the Allina Health website provided further insight. It explained, “Testing to see if you can donate a kidney begins with a blood test. 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).”

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Off the back of that, the potential donor will undergo a number of other tests, including a physical examination and chest X-ray. In Justin’s case, the process lasted for around 12 months. By the end of it, he received some very positive news, with the results confirming that his kidney was viable.

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Given the good news then, a date was set for the procedure at the back-end of 2018. The kidney transplant was scheduled for December 26, which followed Justin’s 36th birthday. And prior to this, the father-of-three touched upon why he was so eager to offer his kidney to his fellow veteran.

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Speaking to the Starbucks website, 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.”

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When the time finally arrived, Justin and Vince were taken to the operating room to complete the procedure at the hospital. Thankfully for everyone concerned, the transplant was a success, with Nicole making the announcement later that day. The new kidney meant her friend subsequently had 20 years of life left at the very least.

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In terms of recovery, Justin was due to be released from the hospital around three days after the transplant. He would then need to spend another couple of weeks resting up at his house, before returning to his job. For Vince, though, he required a bit more time to heal, as we’re about to find out.

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That’s right, Vince was scheduled to leave the medical facility a little later than Justin, with New Year’s Eve being the target. And he needed to ensure that his body wouldn’t reject the kidney, so his physicians prescribed some immunosuppressant medicine. Meanwhile, Nicole had one last thing to say on the matter after the operation.

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Touchingly, Nicole told MailOnline, “Justin doesn’t want any glory. We’re giving all the glory to the Lord. He doesn’t want to inspire anyone, but we just want it to be an encouragement to others to seek out those opportunities to help people. Whether it’s donating organs or blood, they’re so many ways to help.”

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