"I would have done anything for her," Mike Frias tells PEOPLE of donating his kidney to his then-girlfriend Natalie
It’s a match!
Natalie Russo and Mike Frias met on Match in 2014 and immediately felt a connection. When Natalie was rushed to the hospital for kidney failure days after their fourth date – she wasn’t sure if her new boyfriend would stick around.
But Mike did much more than that. After months of unsuccessful searching for a potential donor, Mike decided to get tested to be a donor for Natalie. It turned out that he was almost a perfect kidney match for his new girlfriend. The decision to donate was a no-brainer.
“I would have done anything for her,” Frias tells PEOPLE. “We met at the right time, and that’s just a testament that it was meant to be.”
Frias and Russo, both 34, underwent the successful kidney transplant surgery on March 21, 2016 – just ahead of their June wedding.
“We wouldn’t have gone on this journey together if we both weren’t worth it to each other,” Russo tells PEOPLE. “We really came together during this difficult time, our relationship bloomed and I now know we can get through anything together.”
The pair met after deciding to try online dating while they both were living in Santa Barbara, California, in January of 2014, because they “weren’t meeting the right people.”
“I was so focused on my career,” explains Frias, a project manager for a health insurance company. “I came across Natalie’s profile and her bright green eyes popped out at me.”
Frias met Russo, a boxing instructor, at a pizza place for their first date. They stayed until the restaurant closed, and headed to a coffee shop to continue their date.
“Then we closed the coffee shop down!” says Frias with a laugh. “I fell more and more in love with her as the night went on.”
It was only after the couple had been on four dates that Russo received a distressing call from her doctor.
“I went to the doctor for a routine checkup and they did a blood test to see how my kidneys were doing. They called me the same night saying I needed to go to the ER because my blood work came back toxic,” she says. “I didn’t know if [Mike] was going to stick around, we were really just starting to get to know each other. He was the only guy I was seeing at the time, so I called him and said, ‘I’m in the hospital, I’m going to start dialysis and I need a transplant.’ ”
Frias rushed to the hospital upon hearing the news.
“My initial reaction was that I needed to make arrangements for my dog so that I could be in the hospital with her,” says Frias. “I worked out of the hospital, I was with her 24/7 for the next couple of months. Those days we talked morning and night and we shared ourselves.”
He adds, “We grew to love each other in the hospital during that time.”
Russo reached out to friends and family looking for a kidney match, but was unable to find one. Frias sent in his lab petition for donation on December 31, 2015 and heard back from doctors in February.
“I heard him in his room sounding so happy and I just knew what the call was,” says Russo. “He came out and was like, ‘You’re never going to believe it! Not only am I a match, I’m like a perfect match!’
“I think it was fate.”
On June 26 – three months after the successful operation – the couple wed in an intimate California wedding ceremony with 80 guests.
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“It was perfect,” says Russo. “What I had always dreamed of, with the man of my dreams.”
The newlyweds, who were unable to afford a honeymoon because of medical bills from the kidney operation, were surprised during the ceremony with a dream romantic trip from Match, Fiji Airways and Tourism Fiji.
“The beginning years of our relationship made us so strong,” says Frias. “But now, we can start enjoying our future.”
“If we ever have hard times hit us in the future, I know we’ll be able to get through it,” says Russo in agreement. “We’ve done it before, we can get through anything.”