Editor’s note: Reid Alexander related this story to Faith Karimi. She is a 24-year-old from Colorado who was battling kidney disease before meeting 28-year-old Rafael Díaz, who would become her husband. Here, Alexander recounts his story as a couple and expresses his gratitude to Díaz for changing his life.
(CNN) — It has been a very intense year since I met Rafael on Tinder. Within a few months, she had a soul mate and a husband.
Then, thanks to him, I received another gift that profoundly changed my life.
In August of last year, we met on Tinder. In true Millennial style, we immediately share our Snapchats and then our phone numbers. Two weeks later, we had our first date: a walk in the local Denver park, where we lived.
Since then we are inseparable.
On our second date, Rafael was making tacos and salsa verde at my house, and I told him not to add too much salt. This is how he discovered that I had the Alport syndrome, a genetic disease that causes permanent damage to the blood vessels of the kidneys. I had it since I was 17 and when I met him my kidneys were only working 20%. He had a long list of foods he couldn’t eat: anything with too much sodium, potassium, or phosphorous.
One morning, Rafael saw the 15 pills that I took daily to maintain my kidney function. He was stunned when he realized how serious it was. So he searched about the disease. His first words were, “Well, okay, this is serious.”
Over a year after that first date, we are now at my parents’ home in Kokomo, Indiana, recovering together after surgeons transplanted one of Rafael’s kidneys into my body. Rafael marvels at how amazing it is to give someone a chance for a healthy future.
Almost 107,000 people nationwide need an organ transplant save their lives. I was very lucky to receive mine from the love of my life.
At first I had doubts. But not Rafael.
He and I have had days filled with fear and tears. But there has also been love, laughter, and lots of home cooking. Throughout the effects of my illness, which include hearing loss, swollen calves, and low energy, Rafael has been by my side.
In September, a month after meeting him, I was preparing to have a fistula placed in my arm, a procedure in which an artery is connected to a vein by two catheters to prepare for dialysis. It was the first time Rafael had the idea of being a donor crossed his mind. When he raised it with me, at first I said no.
Later I went on dialysis three times a week and scheduled our appointments around her. My dialysis sessions started around 5:30 in the morning and each lasted about four hours, that is, 12 hours a week.
That had been the last straw for Rafael. He stood up and started the process to find out if he was a compatible donor. He didn’t even think much of the decision. Said, “Let’s do it! You need it.”
One night in February, we were having dinner at an Italian restaurant when Rafael went to the back and asked for Adele’s song, “Make You Feel My Love”:
When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love ….
Then he got down on his knees and proposed to me.
We started testing right after our wedding
In April, we had a small wedding in a park in Littleton, a Denver suburb, to save money for kidney procedures. It wasn’t the big wedding we had originally planned.
On our wedding day, I received a call saying that there was a kidney available for me in Indianapolis. I had to reach someone immediately, but I was 1,600 kilometers away, so it couldn’t be. I had been contacted because I had spent most of my life in a small town in Indiana and was enrolled in Indiana University Health Hospital.
Three days after we got married, Rafael officially began testing to become my kidney donor. (Of the approximately 6,000 living donor transplants performed annually in the US, about 800 are owned by a spouse or partner). By then, he had been on the transplant list for a year.
We both worked in a Denver restaurant, and the thought of losing our jobs at the same time made me uneasy.
Then one day Rafael received an email telling him that he was a match to be my donor. Two surgeons and a nephrologist from Indiana University Health were prepared to perform the operation. When he told me, I thought he was joking.
Overwhelmed by the news, we both began to cry.
This August, almost a year after we met, Rafael underwent a three-hour operation at Indiana University Health to remove his right kidney. Shortly after, I had a three-hour transplant operation.
We were in recovery at different plants and didn’t see each other for a day, but we did FaceTime frequently.
On the second day, Rafael told the nurses: “Take me in the wheelchair to see my husband or I will go myself.” And they do it like that.
We are recovering from the operation. My body already feels better
Over a month later, we are still recovering at my parents’ house in Indiana. We’ll be here for about three months of aftercare, and then they’ll transfer our case to our local hospital outside of Denver.
Our friends have been Raising funds to help us pay for health care costs and expenses, such as renting our apartment in Denver, since neither of us work.
A transplant changes your life. My body feels different and much better. My energy levels are also higher. Now we can hike and camp in the mountains of Colorado, things I was too tired for before.
I’ve never been a morning person, but this operation has changed that. Now I’m the one who gets up early and starts the day.
And my diet is no longer so restricted. Before, it survived mainly on rice and vegetables. I couldn’t eat mac and cheese, one of my favorite foods, but now I can finally enjoy it.
I can also cook Rafael’s favorite dish, Alfredo pasta, with lots of Parmesan cheese, and we can both eat it. Before the operation, he sacrificed himself and only ate what I could eat.
We do it all together. And, as Rafael said, we make ourselves laugh all the time.
When you get on the transplant list, they tell you to prepare to wait five years. The idea that I was going to receive a kidney in a year had not crossed my mind. I never thought that I would move to the other side of the country and meet the love of my life, and that he, too, would end up being my kidney donor.
Rafael and I now have the opportunity to build our lives together. I loved him long before, and I love him even more now. I don’t know what I could do to show my appreciation.
He gave me more than love. It gave me a future.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism