Web Culture

How Success Kid’s Internet Fame Saved His Dad’s Life

Mihir Patkar 04-05-2015

The world wide web can be a wonderful and weird place, because that’s how we humans are. This is the story of how an innocent family photo turned into a celebrated Internet icon, and eventually ended up saving a life.


Eight years ago, Justin and Laney Griner of Jacksonville, Florida gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, Sam. Like any couple, they took their son to play at the beach. And like any couple, they took a lot of photos. Little did Justin and Laney know that day would change their lives forever.

One of the pictures showed little Sam about to eat a fistful of sand, a peculiar expression on his face. It would go on to become one of the Internet’s most popular memes A Brief Overview of Internet Memes & How You Can Quickly Create Your Own Read More . And when Justin recently needed to raise funds for his medical expenses, this photo got the Internet to rally behind him.

Success Kid

It was 2007 when Laney uploaded that photo of Sam to her Flickr page. The Internet loved it. Someone soon photoshopped the words “I Hate Sandcastles” on it – it vent viral.


A little later, Sam’s photo was cut out and turned into one of the Internet’s favourite memes, Success Kid — a photographic representation of something going unexpectedly right. You can find out more about it on the Success Kid KnowYourMeme page, which serves as an encyclopedia of Internet memes KnowYourMeme: An Encyclopedia Of Funny Internet Memes Read More .



If you’ve been on the Internet, you’ve probably seen Sam’s photo on forums and message boards, social networks, and the trend-setting community of Reddit. It got so popular that the Griners were invited to Comic Con as part of a panel on the real people behind the Internet’s biggest memes.

Laney told ABC News that she was initially uncomfortable with the fame, but has since made her peace with it. She even started enjoying stories like adults telling her that her son is their desktop wallpaper.

“By now, it’s just out there,” she said. “What am I going to do? At least it’s positive,”


Success Kidney


Sam’s father, Justin, has been on dialysis since 2009 and the medical bills were mounting. It got to a situation where he needed a kidney transplant; his mother had died of a similar kidney failure, the family says. So Laney took to the Internet to try and raise funds for Justin in a GoFundMe campaign, which is a good platform to raise cash for personal causes Need Help Fundraising? Here Are 5 Alternatives To The ChipIn Widget Fundraising is a difficult task. In the old days, you’d have to throw an event or go door-to-door in hopes of soliciting donations from people in person. That still happens today, but the magic of... Read More . The goal was to find a kidney donor and raise $75,000.

At first, Laney didn’t mention that she’s the mom of Success Kid. But then she decided to embrace it and spread the word.

“We’re the parents of ‘Success Kid’ for goodness sake,” Laney told The Daily Dot. “If anyone understands the power, the mass, and goodwill of the Internet, it’s those of us lucky to experience it daily.”


A few newspapers got word of it, and soon a Redditor put the word out: “Calling All Redditors: Success Kid’s Dad needs a Kidney. Donate Here.

It went viral and in a few days, the campaign hit $100,000 – well over the target. Laney couldn’t control herself:

How the World Reacted



What makes the Success Kid story so wonderful to read is how it shows the human side of the Internet. Reading through the comments on Reddit, the GoFundMe page, and several websites, you’ll find something you don’t see often: an overwhelming response of positivism.

The web can be a dark place and it’s easy to be cynical and rude under the shroud of anonymity. But in this instance, people opened their wallets and their hearts. Several people signed up to check if they were a kidney match. The Reddit thread has other people with similar needs hoping to find a match.

Everyone did not react positively though. A few people even accused Laney of cashing in on her son’s fame. However, a Redditor named final_cut, who claims to be a friend of the family, put that into perspective too:

I’m friends (in real life) with ‘success mom’. She and her husband have been through so much. Between her dealing with her own autoimmune disease and her husband’s kidney problems, I really feel for them. She’s never a complainer and always making jokes about things. For as popular as her kid is, she sure is good to him. Some parents really milk their kids for all they are worth and try to reap the benefits of their kids success. Not these people. They are a success family. Well except health wise. The husband is and an amazing artist and dad.

And perhaps, just perhaps, this will finally give Success Kid Sam himself some closure.

“He’s been this meme for as long as he can remember. But he gets embarrassed by it plenty, too,” Laney told Buzzfeed. “(But) his dad is his hero; he’d happily do anything to help him get better.”

In the end, here’s what matters: a father got a kidney, thanks to his son’s accidental fame, and no one was hurt in the process. That’s a good day on the Internet.

Share a Feel-Good Story

This isn’t the first time that netizens have bared their heart. We’ve shared some stories about how the Internet has been a force of good DancingMan, And 4 More Times The Internet Was a Positive Force The Internet can be a mean place, full of trolls and scamsters. But just like real life, for all the bad, there's a lot of good out there. Read More , and if you have more tales to tell, we’d love some good news in the comments below.

Image credits: Laney G / Flickr, The Mary Sue

Related topics: Meme, Reddit.

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  1. Forrest
    May 5, 2015 at 5:22 pm

    Great article!

  2. Kelsey Tidwell
    May 5, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    As far as it being a bad thing to use her son's fame to save her husband's life...it's wonderful and fantastic and just shows how much she loves him! People still had the choice to give or not to give, and they chose to give back to the family that had provided them, over time, with so many laughs and good feelings.
    If I were watching my wife slowly dying, I'd do anything I could (legally) to save her. This is no different.
    Today's culture too many times rewards people of bad reputation and influence (take that however you like) with fame and fortune. It's nice to see the little guys get some payback for the more positive contributions they make.

    • Mihir Patkar
      May 20, 2015 at 1:27 pm

      Couldn't have put it better myself, Kelsey! Thanks for commenting :)

  3. dragonmouth
    May 4, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    With all the resident experts at MUO, can't anybody come up with a way to permanently block this damned spammer???

    • Mihir Patkar
      May 20, 2015 at 1:26 pm

      Sorry about the persistent spammers, DM. We're avoiding automated solutions because it's easy for spammers to work around them, and it just ends up catching well-meaning commenters into a trap. If you ever do have a problem with some spammed comment, feel free to drop me a line and I'll take care of it personally: mihir@makeuseof.com