Unexpected PlacesJanuary 12, 2017
“Instantly she jumped in, and she’s like 'Well, what can I do to help?'” Rich O'Dea
From finding a secret, hidden monastery in the rainforests of Thailand to swiping for an organ donor— travel with us as we explore the unique ways people Tinder around the world.
Spark a new conversation with DTR—a branded podcast from Tinder, produced in partnership with Gimlet Creative.
To learn more about polycystic kidney disease and organ donation, visit:
Luke Armstrong is always in search of a new adventure. He’s 31. He’s a travel writer. And the thing he loves to write about most is a little known, undiscovered corner of the world.
In the spring of last year- Luke was sitting on the sidewalk in front of a 7-11 in Bangkok, he was drinking a beer and just watching the traffic go by- when a new adventure walked right up and sat down next to him.
LUKE: This guy sat next to me who called himself Akbar. I think he was a jewel smuggler, because I would ask him like, ‘Well, what do you do?’ and he would say, ‘Oh, I’m a trader of many things.’ And he’d talk about getting things over the Burmese border.
LUKE ARMSTRONG: Yeah, exactly. And he told me about this Temple called Wat Kly Gone Wan.
LUKE: Which I guess is Thai for, um, ‘Temple No Worries.’ It’s like the Hakuna-Matata of Thai.
So, of course there are tons of temples in Thailand tourists can visit, but this temple- Temple Wat Kly Gone Wan- Akbar told Luke that it was totally undiscovered by tourists. Beautiful, serene, tucked away, hard to find. It sounded like a challenge.
Luke doesn’t speak Thai, so he wrote down the phonetic spelling of the temple in English and immediately he started asking everyone in his circle of ex-pats and backpackers if they knew about this mysterious place.
And everyone he talked to said nope. Some of his friends told him it must be fake, because if it were real, they were sure they would have already known about it. Luke tried guidebooks. He tried Googling. But he didn’t even know if the name he’d written down was lost in translation.
LUKE: I was getting absolutely nothing.
JANE: So you wanted to go meditate in this Temple, but there was also sort of this Indiana Jones feeling you were having, like, I’m going to go find this lost temple that nobody believes is real?
LUKE: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Like, Indiana Jones has been a huge influence in my life. Um. [LAUGHS] So, I turned to Tinder.
I’m Jane Marie, and this is DTR- a branded podcast from Tinder and Gimlet Creative about defining the relationship in the digital age.
Today, we’re bringing you two very different stories about the crazy, amazing things that can happen when you get off your phone and get into the real world. Because, at its most basic level, Tinder is about connecting people, and those connections can lead you to some very unexpected places.
Luke really needed a new connection. He wasn’t getting anywhere in his search for this mysterious Temple Wat Kly Gone Wan. He needed to find someone who spoke both English and Thai, and who knew about it.
It dawned on Luke that the easiest way to do that might be: Tinder. Because on Tinder he had access to so many people– some of them might speak both languages and be willing to help him.
So, he opened up Tinder and started swiping right, sending every single person he matched with the exact same hapless opening line:
LUKE ARMSTRONG: ‘Hi, I’m a travel writer from America, and I’m trying to find this Temple Wat Kly Gone Wan. Um. Do you have any information about it?’ And lo and behold this woman May knew about it.
Luke matched on Tinder with a Thai woman named May. And May not only spoke English and Thai, but she had actually heard of the temple. It wasn’t a love match or anything but she was totally willing to help him out.
May messaged Luke with some very valuable pieces of information. First, in English, she told him the name of the bus to catch to get on his way to the temple.
And then, she gave him the real key. In their messages on Tinder, May wrote the name of the temple and the city closest to it, in Thai characters. She typed it all out so Luke could just hold his phone up and show these messages to people to get help along the way.
LUKE: So I have this screenshot from May on Tinder in Bangkok and I know what bus I’m to leave Bangkok on, and what bus station, and so I have that much information. And then the next morning I set out to the bus station. So, I’m obviously a tourist, so I’m just like, sitting there and smiling, and I- other than saying ‘hello, thank you! Where is the bathroom?’ All I can do is point to this screenshot of the Thai characters May has given me, which I don’t really know what they mean. You know, as far as I know she’s written, ‘This guy is an idiot and I will not go on a date with him.’
Using the screenshots to get help every step of the way, Luke pieced together his path to the temple in broken English, gestures, sign language…
LUKE: So it would have been, I guess, the man calling himself Akbar, then that led to Tinder, which led to May, which led to… (FADE UP)
And every person he showed the screenshots to, brought him one step closer–
LUKE: … (FADE UP) which led to another bus, which led me to han ka, which led me to a lady selling food on the street who spoke a little bit of English (FADE DOWN)
24 hours and a dozen friendly strangers later, early the next morning, Luke arrived at the steps of the very-real Temple Wat Kly Gone Wan.
Luke: … (FADE UP) which led me to Op, the man who picked me up in the SUV, which led me to the monastery.
And- it turned out, Akbar was right about everything!
It was a glistening, gilded temple, remote and undiscovered by tourists. For all the traveling Luke had done, it was unlike anywhere he had ever been before.
LUKE ARMSTRONG: And suddenly I’m out at 6AM, a foreigner, no one’s asking questions and the sun’s rising and the birds are singing and the insects are humming and the air is fresh and it felt new. And just like- the full stop to be like you’re here right now. Like, this is what you’re doing right now.
Sometimes, new connections lead you to remarkable, extraordinary places. And sometimes they lead you to remarkable and extraordinary people. That is what this next story is about.
JANE: What made you get on Tinder in the first place?
JENNIFER THOMAS: Probably just like anybody else. I, you know, was probably bored, and, um, it was just something different to do and to try it out. I got tired of my social circle and was ready to meet some new people out there.
This is Jennifer Thomas. She lives in Tampa. And she was swiping through Tinder one day and decided to swipe right on a guy named Rich O’Day.
JENNIFER: Yeah, I actually matched with Rich a couple of times. And one of the times we exchanged phone numbers. We texted. He sent me pictures of his Labradoodles or Goldendoodles- his dogs-
JANE: Oh, cute.
JENNIFER: – And all kinds of things so we started talking again and planned our actual date.
JANE: And where did you guys meet?
JENNIFER: Actually, our first date was at Amalie Arena. We went to the Imagine Dragons concert.
JANE: A concert sounds like an exciting first date!
JENNIFER: You know what? It really was. Because nobody really takes you to a concert on your first date. [LAUGHS]
RICH: I met her outside of the stadium where the concert was.
RICH: …and her personality was very vibrant and dynamic. Very easy to talk to right away.
JENNIFER: We just start talking right away because he walked up and I had a beer for him as soon as he got there.
So, Jennifer and Rich are sitting in these balcony seats waiting for the show to start. They’ve got a couple of beers, and they’re making the small talk that we all do on first dates: what do you do for a living, where are you from, do you have any secret kids, are you still sleeping with your baby dad… you know, that kind of stuff. And a first date hot topic in Tampa workouts, of course.
JENNIFER: Rich is in really good shape, and I know it’s kind of hypocritical of me and I think that guys are great when they’re in shape and they take care of themselves. But I don’t like to work out. And last summer, I was going through a phase where I refused to work out.
JENNIFER: And I told him, I said, you look amazing. I want you to know up front that I don’t work out. So if that’s a deal breaker, I just want you to know. And he was like no, it’s not a deal breaker, that’s fine. But then I started asking, you know, what do you do to work out? I’m curious. And he told me about how he was training for a marathon for the New York City Marathon, actually.
For some people who don’t like to work out, hearing that their first date is a marathon runner might be a turn on. But for Jennifer, and me, it was like: gross! Why would anyone ever do that?! But then Rich explained.
RICH: I had mentioned to her that I’m on a team- a marathon charity team for the PKD Foundation that we formed here in Tampa. We were training for the 2015 New York marathon. And I was kind of explaining what we do, and my buddy Scott, who is the captain of our team, his wife was sick with PKD.
PKD is polycystic kidney disease. If you’ve never heard of it it’s a life threatening genetic disease that causes cysts to grow in the kidney. And those cysts cause the kidney function to gradually decrease to the point of kidney failure.
JENNIFER: I had no idea what it was. I had never known anybody who had kidney failure at all, or any sort of issue like that. I’ve never known anything about it.
So, Rich’s friend’s wife, the person suffering from PKD, her name is Erika. She’s a mom of two kids, ages 13 and 15. PKD’s symptoms commonly start to appear mid-life. In some cases it can barely affect you at all, or it can turn your kidneys into a slowly ticking time bomb. Lots of people with PKD end up needing a kidney transplant. When Rich and Jennifer went on this first date, Erika had a matter of months before her kidneys gave out.
RICH: There’s no cure for PKD at the moment. And there’s very little treatment for it. So, we were trying to just do something, as opposed to just sitting back and letting the disease progress.
JENNIFER: She’d had a lot of friends and family attempt to donate, but they had been disqualified from donating for different reasons. It had become pretty critical that her health was declining, and they were at a time where it was really important that they found a donor.
RICH: Instantly, she jumped in and she’s like ‘Well, you know, what can I do to help?’
JENNIFER: He said, ‘well, first of all, they have to be you know a match with the blood type. And I asked ‘Well, I’m O-positive. Are O-positive and O-Negative compatible?’ And he said, ‘I honestly don’t know.’ I said, ‘Let me know. You know, find out, let me know, and I’ll get tested.’ He said, ‘OK are you serious?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Okay.’
This is not normal first date small talk right?
These two were total strangers like an hour ago. I mean at this point we’re barely at the beginning of this date – one plastic cup of beer into it…
JANE: Was this during the concert?
JENNIFER: Yeah. This is while we were waiting for it to start I believe.
JANE: [LAUGHS] So you had met him like 10 minutes earlier and then you’re suddenly like: let me get tested to give your friend a kidney.
JENNIFER: Right, we were in the first 45 minutes of meeting.
JANE: Did you worry that maybe you were coming on a little strong?
JENNIFER: No, because you know it had nothing to do with him.
JANE: No, I know… So has this ever come up for you before?
JANE: No. Yeah, wow.
JENNIFER: No, I mean it never occurred to me. I’m kind of the I just kind of float through life and things are presented to me and I say yes to as much as I can.
JANE: So- so how’d the rest of the date go?
JENNIFER: The rest of the date was fun. We had a really great time.
JANE: But was it a love match?
JENNIFER: You know, we really didn’t have the opportunity to find out. We made plans for a second date. But in between date one and date two my ex-boyfriend popped up. And because you know they have that radar thing when you move on and you know you’re doing good.
JANE: They can smell it from miles away.
JENNIFER: It’s like blood in the water. They’re sharks. So then they come out of the woodwork and they want to get back together.
In the couple days after that first date: Jennifer actually ended up getting back together with the ex-boyfriend. She called Rich to tell him that they wouldn’t be going out on another date. She also made one more call: to Tampa General Hospital, to make an appointment to get tested and see if she’d be a potential kidney donor match for Erika.
JENNIFER: So, they basically said come on down and see us and we’ll- we’ll draw your blood and we’ll see if you’re a match. So, they do a blood and tissue sample. And that was the first step. I did that, and, um, they called me a few days later and said, ‘Well, you’re a match.’
JENNIFER: I was really excited. Like, I think I might have cried.
JENNIFER: Like, I was so thrilled. Just because I had been, you know, talking about this with my friends and family and coworkers about how excited I was to possibly be able to do this for somebody.
This was the critical first hurdle for Jennifer and Erika. Their blood types were compatible, but this was just step one of a dozen steps. There was a lot more testing to go.
JENNIFER: Then they kind of told me, you know, slow down because there’s a lot more testing that you have to do before we can actually approve you to donate.
ERIKA: I kept saying- you know, cuz it’s a long process, it’s not, ‘okay we’re a match and overnight you’re gonna have surgery.’
This is Erika Bragan. And as careful as Jennifer was being about how many tests there were, Erika had been through this with a handful of other donors who fell through for one reason or another. She knew exactly how long the process is, and how fragile it is.
ERICA: They have to go through a bunch of different testings. And I kept saying every time- I said, she’s gonna back out.
JENNIFER: I mean, I had to go and have my blood drawn several times, and every time they took eight or nine vials. I mean it was a lot! [LAUGHS]
JANE: Oy! [LAUGHS]
JENNIFER: And then and then I had to do a 24 hour urinalysis and they got weird results the first time. So they asked me to do it again.
JANE: Uh huh.
JENNIFER: And so I did my 24 urinalysis again, and this time the lab gave me the wrong size container. So, I didn’t get the whole 24 hours in there. And the results were screwed up again. So, I had to do it a third time.
JANE: Oh, great.
JENNIFER: Which is difficult because you literally carry a jug around with you for 24 hours, and every time you pee, you have to collect it in this jug. So, the first two times, I did it on a weekend.
JENNIFER: And the third time, I wanted to get it over with and I asked my employer, ‘Can I work from home, please?’ Because my job I could easily do from home. And they said, ‘no, you may not.’
JANE: Oh, wow.
JENNIFER: Right. So they didn’t want to make it easy on me. So, I brought the jug to work…and I made it as un–
JANE: [LAUGHS] Just set it on your desk?!
JENNIFER: Yeah! Well, I put it in the breakroom refrigerator on top of somebody’s pizza. [CLAPPING, LAUGHING] So I just made it as uncomfortable as possible you know.
JANE: [CLAPPING, LAUGHING] Amazing.
JENNIFER: So, uh….
For all of Jennifer’s excitement and resolve to help, Erika was terrified. She was getting closer and closer to a potential match. Someone who could maybe save her life. And yet– she didn’t want to get her hopes up.
ERIKA: I mean, she had to do one test three times. And I was like, she’s gonna give up and just say, ‘This is just too frustrating,’ you know? ‘I’m sorry but I can’t do it.’
JANE: Did you ever have any second thoughts?
JENNIFER: No. Not at all.
JENNIFER: Not at all.
ERIKA: I couldn’t believe that, you know, a complete stranger would come out of the blue and say ‘I’m ready to be tested,’ and then be a match.
And you know, I had gone through about 4 or 5 individuals who did not end up being a match that I thought it probably wasn’t going to happen.
So, I think I always kept that in the back of my mind until they said- Okay, she’s agreed. We have a date. [LAUGHS]
JANE: That’s when you were finally convinced- when you had a surgery date?
ERIKA: [LAUGHS] Yes!
Jennifer didn’t back out. She went through the dozen tests. She passed every single one. She gave blood, she carried the pee jug. And they kept moving forward. Jennifer (excitedly) and Erika (skeptically) toward that surgery date.
By the way, organ donation between two total strangers, that basically never happens.
ART: It’s really rare to see an altruistic donor who’s a stranger. We’re talking numbers like maybe 1 in 50,000. Very, very rare.
This is Art Caplan. He’s the Director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU’s School of Medicine.
ART: Most people don’t want to do it. You know, you go to them: So would you give a kidney to an absolute stranger or somebody you met once? And they’re sort of like- mm, I don’t think so.
Back in ‘90s, Professor Caplan helped develop the ethical rules that are frequently used to govern living organ donations. He says- not surprisingly- that family members are the most common living donors.
ART: The overwhelming majority of those people are family members, who are related by blood, because that becomes somewhat important in matching the donor and the recipient to making it work– that you be biologically similar.
Altruistic kidney donation is so uncommon, and the procedure is so invasive, that when you’re the donor, it can be really hard for the people who love you to understand why in the world you want to do it.
That’s what happened with Jennifer’s best friend, Gina Wentworth.
GINA: She said, um… [LAUGHS] She said: ‘I went on a date with this guy, and a friend of his wife needs a kidney and I’m going to get tested.’ And I said ‘Nope. No you’re not.’ [LAUGHS] My main concern was that she is a single mother. So I was just, you know, just worried about losing my friend and worried about her son.
But Gina finally got why Jennifer wanted to go through with all this when she met Erika and her family.
GINA: What helped change my mind is Erika has children. Um, she’s around my age and we have children around the same age and that- it just kind of put a whole new spin on it for me. And I just kind of started to come around, then I did a little bit more research and looked at the recoveries, looked at the success rates, looked at the survival rates. I then started to kind of come around. Then it just became a big– you know, of course you have to do this. Even though I would be scared to. I don’t know if I could do it. Thank God there’s people like you that exist that can do it, and now I fully support you.
By the time the surgery date came, that ex-boyfriend- the one who popped up right after Rich and Jennifer’s first date- was out of the picture.
So, in the predawn hours on the morning of surgery, Rich drove 45 minutes to pick Jennifer up and drive her to the hospital.
RICH: She told me that she was going to Uber to the hospital that morning. She had to be there I believe at 5, 5:30 in the morning. And I’m like- no you’re not Ubering to the hospital!
RICH: No, that’s not happening. I will pick you up. I drove and I picked her and her son up. And I tell you I was more nervous than Jen was. I mean, she was bubbly personality happy. She was in a good spirits.
JENNIFER: He picked me up and brought me. So he was my person, because I didn’t have anybody else.
Rich was nervous. Erika was nervous. Erika’s family was nervous. Jennifer, though? Not nervous at all. Here’s Erika:
ERIKA: You know, she just was amazing when you would go in to see her before she went in. And she’s just- I’m like: ‘Are you nervous?’ She’s like- ‘Nope! No! Everything’s going to be fine. It’s all going to be good.’
JENNIFER: I mean, they made it sound like it was going to be horrible and it wasn’t, you know, a walk in the park, but it was much better than I had anticipated. You know I definitely woke up feeling like I got hit by a truck and Erica woke up feeling much better because she felt terrible before. By Sunday, I was in a little scooter at the mall buying a Christmas tree at Z Galleries. So I mean, you know, it couldn’t have been that bad. And then a week later Rich and I went to a hockey game.
JANE: This is a good advertisement for a kidney donation.
JENNIFER: Right? [LAUGHS]
Erika just passed the one year mark for her transplant without any complications. Awesome. She says she feels really good these days and she has a lot more energy. Her goal is to get into beach volleyball shape so she can play with her daughter.
So, a right swipe, that led to a first date, which led to small talk, which led to a real conversation, which led to Jennifer doing something extraordinary, something no one- including her- ever thought she would do: save someone else’s life.
JANE: Where would Erica be without without this, do you think?
JENNIFER: We don’t know. You know I mean her- she- well she would be on dialysis for sure.
JENNIFER: Where the state of her health would be? I can’t speculate. I don’t know. But you know, the fact that she’s a mom. I’m a single mom. And she’s a mother of two. You know and she’s married, she’s got a great husband and her family is beautiful and fantastic.
And I’m so happy and just overjoyed that I could help all of them.
RICH: I hate when people refer to, like, Tinder as, like, a hook up app, because it’s what you use it for. It’s almost like when people say money is evil. Well, no it’s not. You could use it for evil you can use it for bad things when you use it for good things. Jen and I knew upfront- like, you know- we were hoping to meet someone special and clearly, clearly I did.
ERIKA: Not only is she, you know, a complete stranger, she met Rich and went on a date once. How random is it that one swipe started this whole ball rolling, and ended up with me having a new kidney and a new lease on life? I just… it’s amazing.
Last month, Rich, Jennifer, Erika and her family….went out to dinner to celebrate what they call their -‘kidney-versary’ – a year since the successful surgery. They hope to do this every year, for many years to come.
That’s it for this week. Next week, it’s my turn to play matchmaker. I’m taking over some lucky souls’ Tinder profiles and sending them out on dates.
I’m taking over one lucky soul’s Tinder profile and sending them out on dates…
Jenna: John Krasinski.
Jane: John Krasinski?
Jenna: That’s like my dream man in more ways than I could tell you… everyone’s laughing in the studio right now.
Andrew: That should be pretty attainable, come on.
Jane: That is so easy, we will get you John Krasinski in five minutes. Oh my God. Like, a doofy white guy?
That’s next week on DTR.
DTR is a branded podcast from Tinder, made in partnership with Gimlet Creative.
This episode was produced by me, Jane Marie, along with Frances Harlow, Abbie Roo-ZEE-kah, Nicole Wong, Katelyn Bogucki, and Grant Irving, with Creative Direction from Nazanin Rafsanjani. This episode was mixed and engineered by Zac Schmidt and Dann Gallucci. Thanks to RMW and Christine Driscoll. Special thanks to Indu Harikumar and Varun Nayar. And a very special thanks to Jayden Thomas for speaking with us about his mom, Jennifer.
For more info on polycystic kidney disease, and how YOU can become an organ donor, visit our website: DTR-show-dot-com.
DTR is on iTunes, Google Play, and wherever you listen to podcasts.
If you like the show, subscribe! And leave us review telling us why. The reviews really help other people discover the show!
I’m Jane Marie. Thanks for listening.
JANE: What did you think when you first heard this was maybe gonna happen?
JAYDEN: I was thinking: This is gonna be great, she’s gonna save a life!
JANE: Really?! That was what you first thought?