Mario Reyes knows he is fortunate. He knows he's lucky to be alive and has hundreds of people to thank. But words can be so small. So, if you happen to be an award-winning corporate chef, you say thank you the best, and most delicious way you know how.
"It was a lot to do with being tired. I was very, very tired," he told us of the lethargy two years ago that led him to see a doctor which led to a surprise diagnosis: end stage liver disease. He would need a transplant or he would die.
"Just to kind of hear the word you need a transplant, it was a scary thing for me to even think about it. And then I waited. It was very tough to wait."
A wait that lasted two years until the afternoon he got a phone call that a donor liver was available. For a chef the phone call came in a fitting location. He was standing in the produce aisle at Central Market in Plano.
"Wednesday, January 10th, it was 1:53pm. That I will never forget," he said. "Believe it or not I actually had an English cucumber (in my hand) that I was going to make a tzatziki sauce."
He never got a chance to make that sauce. But that day In January he did get his liver transplant. He beat the odds. And now healthy, three months after the transplant, the emotions still bubble very close to the surface.
"6:06pm is when I remember the last time when I said goodbye to my wife and I went inside," he said of when they wheeled him away for the transplant surgery. "Went inside and thank you God. Thank you to Methodist, to the doctors."
But he wanted his thank you to be so much louder.
So Friday afternoon he parked a mobile pizza kitchen outside Methodist Dallas Medical Center. The master chef brought a half dozen of his Master Chef friends.
"They took care of me now I want to take care of them," he told us as they prepared a feast for the entire transplant floor at Methodist Dallas. They served gourmet pizza and salad and a table full of desserts to more than 130 doctors and nurses, everyone who helped save his life.
"It's good to see you too. Thank you so for much for this," one nurse told him.
"Hey. thank you for what you guys did," Reyes told her as the two embraced.
"So in my mind I always wanted to say you know one day I want to do something. One day I just want to give something back," Reyes said.
"It makes me grateful about my job. It's something that makes you want to come to work every day," said nurse Mayra Chairez.
"He is a miracle," said nurse Amber Pierce. "A miracle walking."
For doctors and nurses being able to witness that miracle is thank you enough. But for Mario Reyes being a professional chef is about sharing: sharing a meal, sharing a friendship and now sharing this very public "thank you."
"I think life is way too short. Life is beautiful for us to share together. You just treasure your life and say thank you God for giving me a second chance, giving me another life."
And just in case the menu wasn't thank you enough, Mario and his fellow chefs with the Epicurean World Master Chef's Society also presented Methodist Dallas with a $3,000 check.
"You know the most exciting thing about it honestly Kevin, is sitting here right now having a smile on my face," he said.
A smile because someone, at this point an unknown donor, shared their life with him, giving him the chance to share and to taste life again.
Right now there are approximately 14,000 people in the United States on a waiting list for a liver transplant. To learn more visit:
April is National Donate Life Month.