UPDATE | Monday — The kidney transplant surgery went well for both Rafael Díaz and Reid Alexander and they are on track to be discharged from the hospital this week.
It's easy to see that Rafael Díaz and Reid Alexander were made for each other. Luckily, so were their kidneys.
“We matched in every sense,” Díaz said, laughing.
Their Tinder match in 2020 bloomed into a loving relationship, a marriage, and an unexpected kidney match for Alexander, who was diagnosed with Alport Syndrome — which causes damage to tiny blood vessels in the kidneys — when he was 17 years old.
On Friday, the two Denver men will undergo surgery so Díaz, who was tested and confirmed as a perfect kidney donor for his husband, can give him the gift of a better life.
“I decided to do it because I love him,” the 28-year-old said, with his husband’s arm wrapped around his. “And also because I think that this is amazing — this shared life. It’s amazing to do this — give someone else the opportunity to live. I don't know. (I’m getting) emotional in this moment. But I love this man. And I really want him to have a long life with me.”
HOW TO HELP: Visit Rafael Díaz and Reid Alexander‘s GoFundMe
Doctors discovered Alexander’s kidneys were starting to fail due to Alport Syndrome in the summer before his junior year in high school. He explained that the disease means the Collagen Type V in his kidneys is being attacked and scarred so the organ starts to fail. It affects his hearing, too, since that kind of collagen is also present in ears and eyes.
Currently, there’s no cure for it.
“I wear hearing aids now and everything,” Alexander said. “I feel like I'm an 85-year-old person in a 24-year-old body. But that’s just my normal.”
He was just about to graduate from Indiana University in Bloomington in 2020 and move to Colorado when his doctors told him his kidney function had dropped to 20%, which meant he could officially add his name to the transplant list. Two months afterward, in July, doctors told him to start thinking about dialysis in the near future.
With this heavy on his mind, he traveled to Colorado to help his roommate move to Denver, with plans to join him a week later.
While in Colorado, he matched with Díaz on Tinder and the two started talking on the app. Once Alexander had officially moved to the city, they decided to meet in person on Aug. 23, 2020, at a local park.
“And then literally from then (on), we were together almost every day,” Alexander said.
Díaz, who moved to Colorado from Mexico about two and a half years ago, said he knew there was a spark when Alexander understood his Spanish. He was about to head back to Mexico when the two met and decided to stay in Denver.
“We have a lot of things in common and we make each other laugh all the time,” he said. “We always spend a lot of time in the kitchen or watching movies. We have this, I don't know, this connection that is crazy.”
“It's so cringey, but I'll be thinking of something, and he'll say it or vice versa,” Alexander added. “And I'm like, ‘Oh, that's so gross.’ I also love it.”
They married in April at a Littleton park and then drove up to Estes Park to celebrate afterward. Once they arrived, Alexander received a call from Indiana University Health saying they had a kidney available. However, it needed to be transplanted right away and the couple couldn’t cover the distance in time to make it.
Alexander had started dialysis at this point — his first visit was in February 2021 — and there hadn’t been any luck with the transplant list.
“It's very stressful, because it's really just a waiting game,” he said.
Díaz said it was difficult to see Alexander in dialysis, which lasted five hours a day, three times a week. After each session, Alexander was often tired and dizzy.
Even though their chances were slim, Díaz said he wanted to check to see if he could become a donor for his husband.
“He told me he wanted to, and I was like, ‘That's amazing, that's so awesome that you want to,’” Alexander said. “But in the back of my head the whole time, I was like, ‘He's not going to be a match. It's not going to work out.’”
But the tests returned with the best possible result: Díaz was a perfect match for Alexander.
The next few weeks were a whirlwind. Colorado hospitals were unable to do the surgery and the initial euphoria started to wear thin.
“I was very frustrated and upset,” Alexander said.
Then their luck re-emerged.
While stopping by the bank, Alexander received an email. IU Health said they could perform the surgeries.
“It was very emotional for both of us as we're at a bank teller,” Alexander said, looking at Díaz. “But it hasn't really gotten real until this past week. And it's like, ‘Oh, my gosh, we're having surgery. And I'm getting your kidney. Oh, wow. It's getting real.’”
It will bring their relationship to a new level, Díaz said.
“We've only been together a year, but it feels like I've known him all my life and he's known me all his life,” Alexander said. “And it's just weird — we have such a good bond. It'll definitely strengthen our bond and love.”
The couple said they are looking forward to the days back in Colorado, camping and hiking around the state. They’re also eager to plan a wedding celebration in the next couple years since they were married amid COVID-19 earlier this year.
Alexander said his insurance covers the surgery, but in recovery, neither will be able to work for the subsequent two to three months. They also can’t fly or drive for six to eight weeks, so they are staying in Indiana until they get the go-ahead to return home to Colorado. Once they can come back, they will need light-work jobs to avoid putting stress on the incision areas, Alexander explained, adding that he’s interested in working as a dialysis technician after spending so much time on the receiving end of the job.
To help with expenses for rent and bills over the next few months, they created a GoFundMe.
As of Thursday afternoon, more than 50 people had donated — friends, family, and strangers alike.
“It's difficult to reach everyone because not everyone is friends of ours, is from my family or from his family,” Díaz said of the donors. “So, we just want to say thank you. Thank you to the amazing people that made this happen.”