Circle of Support -- Sammy Mireles is surrounded by (left to right) his son Savian, wife Renee, daughter Aleksa and son Sergio.
In August of last year, the woman who cuts Sammy Mireles’ hair noticed two unusual bumps on the back of his head. Little did he know then the life-threatening — yet ultimately life-affirming — events that were to follow at Toyota of Del Rio, in the small Texas town it calls home and quite literally around the world.
“The day after that haircut, I went to see the doctor,” says Mireles, Toyota of Del Rio’s general sales manager. “The day after that, he sent me to the hospital in San Antonio. My white blood cell count was very low. My kidneys and liver were failing. I had leukemia. A day after that, I started chemotherapy.”
Within three days, Mireles’ organs started to bounce back. But his long-term survival depended on a stem cell transplant from a donor who was a perfect match. At first, it looked like his brother, who was living in Thailand, would fit the bill. So Sergio dropped everything, jumped on a plane and raced to the hospital. But it turned out he wasn’t a suitable match.
Fortunately, Mireles’s son Sergio — just 15 at the time — was.
“Every day after the transplant was a struggle,” says Mireles. “The fact that I had a man like Nick Khoury on my side is a huge reason why I am still here today. I truly believe that.”
Khoury is the owner of Toyota of Del Rio. But for Mireles, he’s far more than that.
“I met Mr. Khoury when I was selling furniture at a store in town,” he says. “I told him I wanted to sell cars. Eventually, he gave me a chance and helped keep me on the right path.”
Khoury admits that, over that 10-year apprenticeship, he has pushed Mireles hard. That tough-love approach didn’t change when his protege went down for the count.
“I remember making that first call to him and thinking that if he was feeling sorry for himself, then I was going to have to snap him out of it,” says Khoury. “I told Sammy, ‘If you’re going to talk like this, I’m going to hang up the phone.’ I think that’s when he realized there was a fight to be fought.”
Mireles soon discovered he was far from alone in this battle. Several dealership colleagues routinely made the 2.5-hour drive to the hospital in San Antonio to visit with him. Khoury also came by, at times taking care of Mireles’ two younger children — 10-year-old Savian and 8-year-old Aleksa – so he and his wife Renee could focus on the especially arduous days in his treatment. At other times, Khoury brought along blueprints of Toyota of Del Rio’s new dealership that was under construction during that time, showing Mireles where his office would be “to get him thinking about the future.”
In It Together -- When Mireles was diagnosed with leukemia, he was worried he would lose his job. But his colleages, like Executive Director Norma Floyd, suppported Mireles through his recovery and welcomed him back to work.
Meanwhile, family members set up a Facebook page under the banner of “Team Sam vs. Leukemia.” The pair uploaded videos that chronicled his progress, then promoted the site via Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat with #togetherwewin. Much to their surprise, the social media postings attracted an enthusiastic following among people in the local community as well as those from around the world.
The dealership also joined in, adding the hashtag to its license plate holders and delivery vehicle wraps.
Through it all, a grateful Mireles — now back on the job — remained on the payroll and covered by the dealership’s healthcare plan, even though he was completely out of commission for nine months.
“Customers would say to us, ‘Thank you for standing behind Sammy,’ says Khoury. “But we didn’t do it for accolades. We did it because it was the right thing to do, for him and his family.”
“Quite literally, I am here today because of what that man did for me,” says Mireles of his mentor. “I can’t tell you how happy I am to be able to tell this story.”
By Dan Miller