One Little Question Asked By A Starbucks Barista Saved This Army Veteran’s Life

If you’ve ever worked in the service industry, then you’ve probably had a few “regulars.” For Starbucks barista Nicole Mcneil, her regular customer was United States Army veteran Vince Villano. But one morning, when Vince came in, Nicole could tell something was wrong.

At first, Nicole was hesitant to say anything. But after taking a deep breath, she decided she couldn’t stay silent. As it turned out, asking one little question was about to save the army veteran’s life.

It Was A Typical Day In Starbucks

It Was A Typical Day In Starbucks
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It was a typical day at Starbucks for barista Nicole McNeil. So, when the door opened, and the familiar face of Vince Villano walked into the coffee house, she wasn’t surprised. But when he placed his usual order, Nicole couldn’t help but feel as though something was wrong.

Of course, she didn’t want to cross a line with the customer by asking personal questions. But after thinking it over, Nicole asked a question that very well might have saved the man’s life.

Vince Villano Had Frequented That Starbucks Location For Years

Vince Villano Had Frequented That Starbucks Location For Years
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

Vince Villano was a Washington resident and a long-time customer at the DuPont coffee house, Starbucks. He’d been frequenting this particular Starbuck’s location for years, so the employees all knew his face as well as his regular order.

But, one morning, the barista on duty felt as though something was off with the retired sergeant. There was a tense air about him, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask what was wrong.

Nicole Knew Vince’s Order

tarbucks coffee YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

Nicole Mcneil was one of the usual morning employees working at Starbucks. As such, she recognized Vince. And she took great pride in knowing his usual coffee, getting it ready for him before he ordered.

In fact, Nicole made up nicknames for a lot of her usual customers, in order to remember their drinks. To her, Vince was known as “Trenta Vanilla Sweet Cream Cold Brew, four pumps.” Little did she know, she was about to learn a whole lot more about Vince than that nickname.

It Was January 2017 When Vince Walked In Looking Different

It Was January 2017 When Vince Walked In Looking Different
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

It was a typical January day in 2017, Washington, meaning it was absolutely freezing outside. So customers walking into the DuPont Starbucks were all bundled up to ward off the cold temperatures, including Vince.

But the long trench coat isn’t what made Nicole do a double-take after preparing Vince’s coffee that morning. He was holding himself differently, with his hands thrust deep inside his coat pockets. But it was the look on his face that really concerned the barista.

Going To Starbucks Was Routine

Going To Starbucks Was Routine
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images

Like a lot of people, Vince had developed a routine of getting coffee in the morning. Nicole assumed he wanted a caffeine-kick to start his day, as many students and people in the workforce do.

What Nicole didn’t know was that this routine became necessary after a rough time in Vince’s life. After the barista learned the truth, it was evident the Army veteran wasn’t going to Starbucks each morning because he loved the coffee.

Vince Was Very Ambitious

Vince Was Very Ambitious
Heather Clark/Pinterest
Heather Clark/Pinterest

As a young man, Vince’s ambition was to graduate from high school and attend the northern California school College of the Siskiyous. Two notable alumni from the college are professional baseball player Mark Acre and professional football player Dan Hawkins.

But he didn’t want to attend because of the big names who had gone there. He wanted to go to college and study a very particular topic, medicine, and emergency medical management. Then, Uncle Sam came knocking on his door.

After A Decade, Vince Was Made Sergeant

After A Decade, Vince Was Made Sergeant
John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

After studying in college, Vince found himself in the United States military, the Army, to be exact. Before he knew it, a decade had passed and Vince was a sergeant. He never expected to be in the military for so long!

As a lead emergency medical technician, Vince saw a lot of situations that were still haunting him. So, when he finally left the army behind, he made a pact with himself to change his life.

Vince Finally Had A Nine To Five Job

Vince Finally Had A Nine To Five Job
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

After Vince was discharged from the United States Army, he made a conscious effort to change his life. So, he thought it through and found a branch of Farmers Insurance in Lakewood, Washington that appealed to him.

Finally, he was able to put the front lines behind him and work a regular nine to five job. Unfortunately, the darkness wasn’t too far behind, and Vince was going to be sucked back in sooner rather than later.

Vince Made A Routine For Himself

Vince Made A Routine For Himself
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Vince found readjusting to civilian life difficult, as many veterans do. So, he made a routine for himself, to help ease back into “normal life.” That routine started each day off with a cup of coffee.

For years, Vince went to the DuPont Starbucks and ordered the same drink from the same barista. But little did Vince and Nicole know, but their lives were about to be thrown together in a very unexpected way. And it all started with one simple question.

Like Vince, Nicole Was Very Ambitious

Like Vince, Nicole Was Very Ambitious
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

Like Vince, Nicole was a very ambitious student, wanting to head off to college after graduating from Stadium High School in Tacoma, Washington. The barista attended the Univerity of Washington, choosing to study construction management.

She graduated with her degree back in 2005, meeting her future husband, Justin, soon after. Ironically, Nicole had no idea that her husband and Vince had so much in common, despite seeing him every day for years. But they were about to find out.

Justin And Vince Both Had Military Careers

Justin And Vince Had A Common Military Career
John Moore/Getty Images
John Moore/Getty Images

Coincidentally, Nicole’s husband Justin was also a military veteran. And not just any branch, but the United States Army. Not only that, but he was also granted the rank of sergeant during his service.

Of course, Nicole had no clue one of her regular customers had so much in common with Justin. But that would all change the day she asked Vince that fateful question. Little did the two know, but they were about to learn a lot about one another.

Nicole Had Worked At That Starbucks Location For Years

Nicole Had Worked At That Starbucks Location For Years
Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images
Ramin Talaie/Corbis via Getty Images

Nicole had worked at that Starbucks location since 2014, so she knew Vince’s routine. But just because she knew his routine, order, and that he would come into the shop each morning, she didn’t know much beyond that.

Because Nicole had worked at Starbucks for so long, so was in quite a unique position. It was something that even Vince wasn’t counting on. Thankfully, because of it, Nicole was able to save his life.

Nicole Is Very Attuned To Regular Customers’ Body Language

Nicole Is Very Attuned To Regular Customers Boy Language
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

Because of her job as a barista, Nicole was in contact with many people each day, including Vince. So, she was accustomed to seeing certain customers each day, even picking up when something was wrong because of mood changes and body language.

It was both of those things that had income thinking something was wrong with Vince. Now it was just a matter of getting the man to speak with her. Who knows, maybe talking with someone would help?

Immediately, Nicole Knew Something Was Wrong

Immediately, Nicole Knew Something Was Wrong
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

On the official Starbucks Stories website, Nicole said, “As a barista, we can really tell when our customers are sad and when they’re hurting.” As a mother of three, Nicole was very attuned to people’s emotions and when they were feeling down.

So, when Vince walked in that fateful day with a particularly glum expression on his face and a slumped posture, Nicole immediately knew something was wrong with one of her regular customers.

It Was Almost The End Of Her Shift When Vince Walked In

It Was Almost The End Of Her Shift When Vince Walked In
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

It was January in Washington, so, in other words, it was freezing outside. Nicole was almost done with her morning shift when Vince walked in, looking a bit more glum than usual.

Now because she was very attuned to her regular customers’ daily body language and mood, she knew right away that something was off with Vince. For a guy who rarely had a change in expression or demeanor, Nicole knew she had to say something.

Vince Didn’t Look Well

Nicole Was Very Concerned About Her Regular Customer
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

During an interview with MailOnline, Nicole spoke about Vince, saying, “Even when he seemed happy, he always looked a bit glum. And [he] wanted to just get his coffee and go.”

The thing is that morning was different. Vince’s facial expression was a bit off, and his posture was making Nicole feel as though she had to say something to her regular customer. But what is there to say to a man you don’t know personally and only serve coffee to?

She Told Vince That They Should Sit Down And Chat

She Told Vince That They Should Sit Down And Chat
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

After preparing his usual order of a 30-ounce vanilla cold brew with extra vanilla, Nicole finally got the courage to ask Vince a simple question that was going to change the course of both their lives.

Nicole asked, “Is everything OK?” She was concerned for his well being. Vince wasn’t exactly open to sharing that morning. But Nicole was committed to helping her regular customer. So, she nudged him a bit harder, wanting him to open up.

Nicole Learned An Interesting Truth About Vince

Nicole Learned An Interesting Truth About Vince
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

During an interview with MailOnline, Nicole explained the quick exchange, saying, “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.'”

Of course, Vince wasn’t skeptical, saying, “It would take too long to tell you.” But he underestimated the barista who came back with a solid answer. “I actually do have the time today.” So, the two sat down for a chat.

The Two Sat Down And Got To Know One Another

The Two Sat Down And Got To Know One Another
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

After Nicole clocked out for the day, she met Vince at one of the tables, sitting down and getting cozy. It didn’t take long before the two realized they had a lot in common. Well, more so Vince and Nicole’s husband Justin did. They were both Army veterans!

However, Vince’s transition into regular civilian life wasn’t what was getting him down. No, it was not psychological but it was health-related.

Vince Had Polycystic Kidney Disease

Vince Had Polycystic Kidney Disease
Adam Berry/Getty Images
Adam Berry/Getty Images

As it turned out, Vince was diagnosed with Polycystic Kidney Disease. The condition is genetic, causing the enlargement of cyst-ridden kidneys until they eventually shut down altogether.

A few people in Vince’s family have had the disease, including a great-grandparent who passed away from complications that can arise, such as high blood pressure and kidney failure. It made sense why the air around Vince seemed to tense that particular morning.

More On The Disease

His Disease Was Genetic
BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images
BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Polycystic kidney disease is a disorder that affects the kidneys and other organs. Clusters of fluid-filled sacs, called cysts, develop in the kidneys and interfere with their ability to filter waste products from the blood.”

Pretty much, Vince was just living a waiting game that he didn’t sign up for. The diagnosis was enough to make anyone feel more glum than usual.

At First, Vince Had A Pretty Matter-Of-Fact Attitude

At First, Vince Had A Pretty Matter-Of-Fact Attitude
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

On the official Starbucks Stories & News site, Vince said, “When I was first diagnosed, I felt like, ‘Well, I’m dying.'” That’s a pretty matter-of-fact way of looking at things. Especially for someone who wanted nothing more than to live a normal civilian life.

He went on to say, “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.”

Vince Was Told He Needed A Kidney Transplant

Vince Was Told He Needed A Kidney Transplant
Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images
Marijan Murat/picture alliance via Getty Images

It had been a few years since his diagnosis, but it was only getting worse. In 2016, Vince was hooked up to a dialysis machine, something that functions as a kidney. But it was a few days before his chat with Nicole in 2018 that he received additional information of his current state.

Vince’s doctors told him that he needed a kidney transplant and that it was a life or death situation. The news saddened Nicole, and that night she told Justin all about it.

Justin Offered Vince His Kidney

Justin Offered Vince His Kidney
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images
ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP via Getty Images

It was when Nicole was telling Justin about her talk with Vince that he came up with a brilliant and selfless solution. Nicole said during an interview, “Right away, [Justin] said, ‘Well, I have a kidney. He can have mine.'”

Adding, “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.’”

Justin And Vince Became Fast Friends

Justin And Vince Became Fast Friends
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

From there, Justin and Vince became fast friends. First hanging out together with Nicole and then on their own. The two hadn’t even been to the lab yet to see if they were a compatible match!

During an interview, Nicole said, “And then he started coming over for parties on the holidays, and then he and Justin started hanging out on their own.” Everyone could only hope that the friendship had a chance to bloom.

Vince Soon Became Part Of The Family

Vince Soon Became Part Of The Family
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

It didn’t take long for Justin and Nicole to think of Vince as part of the family. The couple, along with their three kids, adored Vince. And while he knew about Justin’s generous offer, Vince still had his fair share of doubts.

He couldn’t thank Nicole and Justin enough for what they were doing for him, not only with the kidney but also with their friendship. But now it was time for the two men to get tested.

Justin Went Through A Series Of Medical Tests

Justin Went Through A Series Of Medical Tests
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

Before a transplant can occur, the patient and donor need to go through some tests to make sure they are compatible. The Alina Health website says, “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)”

The Testing Took A Year To Complete

The Testing Took A Year To Complete
David Silverman/Getty Images
David Silverman/Getty Images

Everyone was praying and had their fingers crossed that the two men were compatible and that Justin would be able to donate his kidney to Vince. But they had to be patient. Unfortunately, the testing was going to take a total of 12 months to complete.

So, for one whole year, everyone was sitting on pins and needles waiting for the results to come in. And when they finally did, no one could believe their eyes.

Justin And Vince Were Compatible!

Justin And Vince Were Compatible!
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

The test results confirmed that Justin and Vince were a match! They wasted no time, scheduling a date for the procedure to take place. December 26, the day after Justin’s 36th birthday, was the winning date.

According to Justin, saying yes to the donation was simple, “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.”

The Transplant Was A Success

The Transplant Was A Success
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube
Starbucks Coffee/YouTube

December 26th came, and the two men were wheeled into the operating room. Nicole waited anxiously for the surgeon to come out and speak to her, and when he did, she was over the moon.

The transplant was a total success, and both Justin and Vince were in recovery. For Vince, the new kidney meant that he could count on living for 20 or more years. Time that he’ll be able to spend with his new friends!