Jennifer-VasilakosSanta Barbara resident Jennifer Vasilakos was in the neighborhood handing out flyers and raising funds when a driver stopped to ask for directions.

She never guessed the man asking for help was Beanie Baby billionaire Ty Warner – until he promised to send her a $20,000 check to cover the cost of her kidney treatment.

The stem cell procedure could help save her life and when the fellow Santa Barbaran heard her heart-wrenching story, he knew he wanted to help.

The dialysis patient wrote on her blog:

“He’d rolled up in his nondescript car, while I was fundraising at the French Festival.  He was lost and needed directions. I often get asked by random strangers for directions. Not one to miss an opportunity, I handed him my flyer and he made a fifty dollar donation. As he drove off, I thought that was the end of our encounter.”

But after an hour he returned to her table near the entry to the parking lot.

“Rolling down his window, he reached out his hand and introduced himself. I immediately recognized his name. He was kind and sincere as he looked directly into my eyes, and the woman with him smiled at me. They’d read my flyer.

“I listened as he repeated over and over that he was going to help me. That my fundraising was done. That I didn’t need to worry any longer. He said he would send a check after he returned to his offices during the week.”

That wasn’t all, though. Ty Warner also wanted to support Jennifer’s efforts to bring attention to how stem cell medicine can help others who are not eligible for a kidney donation.

After being rejected for a kidney transplant due to the removal of a small spot of melanoma from her back last year, which eliminated her eligibility due to increased risk of cancer, Vasilakos began her research into other treatments. She determined that using her own hematopoietic stem cells could save her life.

“After I serendipitously met Jennifer, I further educated myself on her stem cell needs. I was shocked that this particular type of treatment wasn’t available to her in the U.S.,” said Ty Warner, Chairman and CEO of Ty Inc. “My hope is that we can bring this lifesaving treatment to the forefront so that it can become more readily available and provide alternatives for people like Jennifer.”

Ty Warner letterhead note with donationDays later, Vasilakos received a FedEx package. Inside was a cream colored envelope inscribed with one word:  “Jennifer”.  The handwritten letter by the generous businessman was genuine and heartfelt. “It was the type of letter you keep forever,” she said. Accompanying it was the check that might save her life.

Her procedure will take place at a foreign hospital approved by the International Cellular Medicine Society, ensuring its legitimacy. She was scheduled to leave August 19th and plans to disclose the location when she returns.

All of the bumps in the road have not broken her spirit. Jennifer is on a mission to use her story as an educational tool and to highlight the benefits of stem cell research for those suffering with similar illnesses. Read more of her story and follow the next phase in her journey at

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