Get the latest from TODAY
You probably don’t know Justin Griner, but there’s a good chance you recognize his son, whose triumphant face in a viral photo sparked the famous “Success Kid” meme several years ago.
Believe it or not, that young boy is now 8 years old, and his family is turning to the Internet for help because his dad suffers from kidney disease and needs a transplant. Since launching a donation website last week, they’ve already raised more than $40,000 to help find a donor and pay for transplant costs.
“This is beyond anything we could have imagined,” Justin Griner’s wife Laney told TODAY.com. “If not for Success Kid, he would be just another guy who needs a kidney.”
Justin, 39, has been on dialysis since suffering kidney failure in 2009. He needs to undergo dental work and be able to prove he can afford the anti-rejection medications before being placed on a waiting list for a transplant, he told TODAY.com, explaining that that’s why his wife launched the GoFundMe page.
“You can’t have any kind of active infection before the transplant, and I neglected my dental health for so long, so I have to get that done first,” Justin said. “Once I have the funds set aside for everything, I’ll be put on the list for a cadaver donor, but that could take up to five years because there are so many people in need of a kidney.”
So, the couple is searching for a live donor. Some friends and family members have tried to help, but aren’t a match, they said. Knowing how well the Internet once reacted to their son’s photo, the Griners, who live in Jacksonville, Florida, decided to seek help online.
The GoFundMe page instructs well-wishers who want to see if they’re a match for donation to call the Mayo Clinic in Florida, where Justin is a patient.
“At first, I didn’t want to use Success Kid because I wanted the focus to be on Justin,” Laney, 39, said. “But most people who know us know our son is Success Kid, and so people started talking about it. I realized that this could be a really positive thing.”
Laney took the famous photo of her son Sammy, then only 11 months old, at the beach in 2007 and posted it online, and she still laughs about how it turned into a victory meme.
“I just wanted this perfect shot of him sitting there but he kept grabbing fistfuls of sand, and at that age, everything goes in their mouth,” she said. “So it looks like, ‘Yes, victory!’ but it’s actually a baby eating sand.”
About two years later, she noticed the photo had sparked a series of hilarious memes online.
“First, it was called, ‘I hate sandcastles,’ but I didn’t really like that because it looked like he was a bully,” she said. “When I started seeing it as Success Kid, I was like, perfect.”
The Griners aren’t the first family to seek help from strangers in getting a transplant. A Maine mom recently found a potential donor for a kidney transplant after posting a message on her car’s windshield.
More than 100,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for a kidney transplant, according to the Organ Procurement & Transplantation Network.