Swiping right on Tinder leads to kidney donor

By Josh Rojas, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, November 10, 2015, 5:37 AM EST

A Tampa mother of two who suffers from polycystic kidney disease is getting a new chance at life that began with a right swipe on the dating app Tinder.

"I’m overwhelmed. I just can’t believe that someone, a complete stranger, would be willing to donate their kidney to me," said Erika Bragan, 44. "I never really wanted to ask anybody."

PKD is a genetic disorder and Erika's husband, Scott Bragan, 47, leads a marathon team that raises funds and awareness for the Polycystic Kidney Foundation. Rich O'Dea, 43, is part of Scott's team and connected the family with the donor.

"It’s a blessing for me to be a part of it," O'Dea said. "I just happened to be at the right place at the right time."  

Nearly four months ago, O'Dea was looking for a date and swiped right on Jennifer Thomas' photo on Tinder. Thomas did the same and they both agreed to go to a concert. That's when O'Dea told Thomas that he was training for a PKD marathon and she learned about Erika. Thomas decided she wanted to donate her left kidney to Erika, a woman she never met before.

"It’s the right thing to do... I have two and I only need a portion of one to have a completely normal life that is not going to change at all for me," she said. "I think it’s really important for me to set an example for my son that shows when you’re selfless and you give, good things happen to you."

"Several months later, after lots of testing, she’s a match and she’s a really good match," O'Dea said. "I think Jenn deserves 100 percent of the credit."

"Each step of the process, I fear she’s going to back out," Erika said. "But she is all gung-ho and ready to give me her left kidney."

The surgery is scheduled for Nov. 18, at Tampa General Hospital. Erika's husband said he's grateful to O'Dea, Thomas and Tinder.

"I thank Rich for being one of my best buddies, for embracing our message," Scott said. "For Jenn, she’s our angel. I said it a number of times, the planets were aligned when they met that night."

Turns out Thomas was right about giving selflessly and getting good things in return. On Monday, O'Dea gave Thomas a pleasant surprise.

"We received a donation from the Haggard Law Firm in Coral Gables, Florida. Mike Haggard has PKD," he said. "He does not have a new kidney yet and to him it’s very important to take care of the donors and he’s donating $5,000 to you and Jayden to help you with your expenses and holidays and Christmas.”

"I don’t even know what to say. I’m a little overwhelmed to be honest with you," Thomas responded. "Thank you, I’m so grateful."

Thomas and O'Dea did not find a love connection on Tinder but they did make a life-saving connection and remain friends.