CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Elizabeth Tikoyan said when she was diagnosed with Lyme disease, she learned how lonely having a medical condition can be.
The Riley app helps people with chronic illnesses, diseases and disabilities connect with each other. (CBS19)
"It was the end of my senior year,” said Tikoyan. “And when all of my friends were going off to start college, I had to stay back and I had to seek treatment from my doctors."
It took three years for doctors to correctly diagnose her. She said she was faced with disabilities she never thought she'd have.
"I had the inability to walk. I had the inability to talk. It paralyzed my right side completely,” said Tikoyan. “And it was not only physically debilitating, it was humiliating. You have your whole life, it just looks so bright as a kid, and here you are at such a young age experiencing the world of health issues."
Tikoyan said it was hard for her to find people with similar age, interests, and relatable health problems to connect with.
"A lot of people going through a medical condition or having a disability feel very disconnected from the world around them,” she said.
Which is why she founded the Riley App and formed a team through i.Lab at the University of Virginia to make it come to life. Joana Azevedo and Lauren Holt are designers of the app. Jacob Renner and Sophie Williams are outreach coordinators.
"We're trying to draw people in with this aspect of connection,” said Holt, explaining the app. “This one on one personal connection people are going to have."
Similar to other social media sites, you create a short biography. Except with Riley, you specify your profile with what illnesses or disabilities you relate to as you create your profile.
"You select the conditions and illnesses that you most identify with such as anxiety, depressions, PCOS, Lyme disease, and endometriosis,” said Holt.
They hope to add more conditions in the future. On the app, people can suggest what other illnesses and disabilities should be added to their options.
As you look through other peoples’ profiles you can swipe left or right to either match or move forward to someone else. Once you find your match, you can then message them and start building your network of people who understand you and what you're going through.
"The disability and health community, they are the largest minority in the world according to the World Bank, and they're also one of the most oppressed across the world,” said Tikoyan. “And a lot of people want to meet each other and they want to feel empowered by connecting to each other. So even though we're creating an app, our company and our mission is so much bigger than that."
The Riley app is named after a 13-year-old girl who Tikoyan knew from volunteering in the pediatric department in a Washington, D.C. hospital. The girl passed away waiting on a transplant list.
"The news broke my heart that a vibrant, outgoing girl that dreamed of being a Hollywood star passed away way before her time," said Tikoyna. "Years later, when the app idea popped up in my head, I was going through names and I was so drawn to name this after her to honor her legacy."
The app is still in its final stages of being completed. They plan to launch it officially in the fall.
Their Instagram, @rileyapp.co, already has more than 800 followers, and it is filled with posts from their ambassadors sharing the news of the coming app with their own stories of their illnesses and disabilities.
Check out the website in the Related Links box to learn more.