I never expected to find a kidney on Tinder, much in the same way I really wasn't expecting to find someone like Lori. All the app had ever given me was one relationship that didn’t last very long and a bunch of messages from couples asking to join in their sexual escapades (I politely declined). So I had low expectations. But matching with Lori was unexpected in more ways than one.
At the ripe age of 12, I was diagnosed with the serious autoimmune disease lupus, which causes my body’s immune system to be so overactive that it attacks its own cells — anything from skin to other vital organs. My case was very active and chronically wreaking havoc on my entire body. It started with my kidneys. When a biopsy revealed that both were extremely scarred, doctors determined that I would need dialysis in the near future.
There are two types of dialysis — hemodialysis, which involves going into the clinic three days a week and getting a big needle shoved into your vein, and peritoneal dialysis, of which I could do at home and involved no blood. Soon after this visit to my doctors, my kidneys began failing at an alarming rate. I left college to take care of myself. I did dialysis at home for 10 hours every night. Slowly, it gave me the ability to restart my college career and return to a somewhat normal life.
Getting out and dating was tough, because when you’re that ill, the last thing you’re thinking about is dating. When I was feeling better, online dating made it easier to find people. I told potential partners about the tube in my stomach, which I needed for dialysis. Some were cool with it, but for others it was too much to handle.
Lori and I swiped right about a week before Labor Day of 2015. We started texting with one another and made plans to go on a date, but we ended up meeting sooner than we had planned when we were both on Fire Island for the last hurrah of the summer. As soon as she texted me that she was also at Cherry’s, I had to meet her. We danced all day, and when we needed to catch our breath, we talked.
On our first date I told Lori about being on dialysis and what that meant for my future. On our third or fourth date she asked if she could get tested to see if she was a donor match. I was taken aback because we didn't know each other very well yet, and even people with whom I had been friends for a long time hadn't offered.
For the next month and a half, Lori secretly underwent physicals, lab tests, and body scans to make sure she was eligible to donate one of her kidneys to me. When she got the OK to donate, Lori surprised me with a box of my favorite things. At the bottom was a poster of the Tinder match screen that said, "It's a match! Accept kidney or stay on waiting list?"
It turned out Lori wasn’t only a Tinder match. She was also a kidney donor match.
After that, our story went viral and we became "internet famous." During that time, we were asked by Gigantic! Productions, a New York City-based production company, if we would be interested in filming our story. Of course we were! How many times does that happen?
Filming began soon after. We were followed and miked up and recorded. We were asked tons of questions about ourselves, how we felt about the upcoming kidney transplant, and how our families felt. They filmed our everyday lives, our dates, our appointments, and the actual surgery. It was sometimes overwhelming, but it was a fun and unique experience. We became close with the film crew and the production company itself.
Our story being made into a documentary seemed super surreal but also incredibly exciting. We would get to share our story with so many people and raise awareness about organ donation and lupus. It was a win-win.
Ultimately we named the film Bean, the name we gave our joint organ — my new kidney donated by Lori.
Once it was complete, Bean was sent out to film festivals around the country. Our first festival was the American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs, Calif. When we were accepted, we were both ecstatic. Neither of us had ever been to a film festival, so we were pretty pumped. Having an audience watch our story for the first time was equal parts frightening and exhilarating. What if they hated it or didn’t laugh at the funny parts or they thought it was boring?
As it would turn out, not only did the audience laugh, they really loved the doc. In fact, a lupus support group came out to see the film, and it meant a lot to them that I was able to tell a story with which they were all too familiar.
I hope that more people will experience the film through attending screenings and watching the TV premiere, and get the opportunity to learn about the challenges that people like myself go through in dealing with illnesses like lupus and become inspired to think about organ donation. We have upcoming screenings at the First Glance Film Festival in Philadelphia on Sunday, October 8, and the Woodstock Film Festival in Woodstock, N.Y., on Friday, October 13, and Saturday, October 14. As if that weren’t enough, our story will once again receive national attention when Bean makes its world television premiere on Fuse on Saturday, November 18 at 10 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.
This whole experience has been life-changing for Lori and me. Lori was so selfless in her gift. Literally giving me a better chance at life is something I’m so thankful for. Being with each other, we’ve given the other more life and love than we even thought possible. I'm not sure what I'd do without Lori and, come to think of it, without Tinder.
ALANA DURAN and her partner, Lori, are the subjects of the upcoming documentary Bean and a Fuse special airing next month.