It's been a whirlwind year since I first matched with Rafael on Tinder. Within months, I had a soulmate and a husband.
Then, thanks to him, I received another gift that profoundly changed my life.
We swiped right on Tinder in August last year. In true millennial fashion, we immediately shared our Snapchats, then our phone numbers. Two weeks later, we had our first date -- a walk at our local park in Denver, where we lived. We've been inseparable ever since.
On our second date, Rafael was making tacos and salsa verde at my house, and I told him to go easy on the salt. That's how he found out I had alport syndrome
, a genetic disease that causes permanent damage to the blood vessels in the kidneys. I'd had it since I was 17 and by the time I met him, my kidneys were functioning at only 20%. I had a long list of foods I couldn't eat -- anything with too much sodium, potassium or phosphorous.
One morning, Rafael saw the 15 pills I swallowed daily to maintain my kidney function. He was stunned when he realized how bad it was. Then he looked up the disease. His first words after that: "Well, OK, this is serious."
More than a year after that first date we're now at my parents' house in Kokomo, Indiana, recovering together after surgeons transplanted one of Rafael's kidneys in my body. Rafael marvels at how amazing it feels to give someone a chance at a healthy future.
Nearly 107,000 people nationwide need a lifesaving organ transplant
. I was so lucky I got mine from the love of my life.
I was hesitant at first. But Rafael wasn't
He and I have had days filled with fears and tears. But there's also been love, laughter and lots of home-cooked meals. Throughout the effects of my disease -- hearing loss, swollen calves and low energy, among others -- Rafael has stuck by me.
In September, about a month after I met him, I was getting ready to have surgery to put a fistula in my arm -- a procedure that connects an artery to a vein in preparation for dialysis. It was the first time the idea of being a donor crossed Rafael's mind. When he brought it up, I initially said no.
I later got on dialysis three times a week, and was scheduling our dates around it. My dialysis sessions started around 5:30 a.m. and each was about four hours -- so that's 12 hours a week.
That was enough for Rafael. He put his foot down about starting the process to see if he was a donor match. He didn't even give the decision much thought. He 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 them to play 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 one knee and proposed.
We began the tests right after our wedding
In April, we had a small wedding at a park in the Denver suburb of Littleton to save money for the kidney procedures. Not the big nuptials we'd originally envisioned.
On our wedding day, I got a call that there was a kidney available for me in Indianapolis. It needed to go to someone immediately, but I was 1,000 miles away, so it didn't happen. They had contacted me because I spent most of my life in a small Indiana town and was listed at Indiana University Health.
Three days after we got married, Rafael officially started the tests to become my kidney donor. (Out of roughly 6,000 living donor transplants per year in the US, close to 800 are from a spouse or a partner).
By then, I'd been on a transplant list for a year.
We both worked at a restaurant in Denver and the idea of being out of work at the same time left me uneasy.
Then one day, Rafael got an email saying that he was a match to be my donor. Two surgeons and a nephrologist at Indiana University Health were ready to do the surgery. When he told me, I thought he was joking. Overwhelmed by the news, we both started crying.
This August, nearly a year to the day we first met, Rafael had a three-hour surgery at Indiana University Health to remove his right kidney. Then I had a three-hour transplant surgery shortly afterward.
We were in recovery on different floors and didn't see each other for a day, but we FaceTimed a lot. On the second day, Rafael told the nurses, "You take me with the wheelchair to go see my husband, or I'll go there myself."
So they did.
Now we're recovering from surgery. My body already feels better
More than a month later, we're still recovering at my parents' house in Indiana. We'll be here for about three months of aftercare, then our case will be transferred to our local hospital outside of Denver.
Our friends have been raising funds to help us
pay for health care costs and expenses, like rent for our Denver apartment, since we're both not working.
A transplant is life-changing. My body feels different, and so much better. My energy levels are higher, too. Now we can go hiking and camping in the Colorado mountains -- things I was too tired to do before.
I was never a morning person, but this surgery has changed that. I'm the one who wakes up early now and gets the day going.
And my diet is no longer as restricted. Before, I was mostly surviving on rice and vegetables. I couldn't eat mac and cheese, one of my favorite meals, but I can finally enjoy that now.
I can also cook Rafael's favorite dish -- Alfredo pasta, with lots of parmesan -- and we can both eat it. Before the surgery, he was selfless and only ate what I could eat.
We do everything together. And, as Rafael has said, we make each other laugh all the time.
When you get on the transplant list, they tell you to prepare to wait for five years. The notion that I'd get a kidney in a year was the farthest thing from my mind. I never thought I'd move across the country and meet the love of my life -- and that he would also end up being my kidney donor.
Rafael and I now have a chance to build our life together. I loved him so much before, and I love him even more now. I don't know what I could possibly do to thank him enough.
He gave me more than love. He gave me a future.