For Rachel Bollin, March 18 is a day that is burned in her mind, like the play button that can’t be stopped. Her husband, Tony, hadn’t been feeling well that day and had gone to UCLA Emergency. The look on his face said it all: he desperately needed a kidney transplant.
It wasn’t news to Tony, 49, a 23-year employee at Southern California Edison (SCE). Seventeen years ago his kidney had failed and he was able to find a deceased donor. He has beaten the odds since kidney transplants usually last about 10 years. But this time, he has got more than enough reasons to live: a wife of over three years and 2-year-old twin daughters Brooke and Nora.
“The last time I went through this by myself,” said Tony, who lives in Corona. “This time around, it seems like the whole world is behind me.”
Since March 18, Rachel has made it her singular mission to find a kidney donor for her husband. She has held fundraisers with friends and family and has already raised the needed $20,000 for Tony’s surgery. She also started a popular Facebook page that not only seeks to find a kidney donor who is Type o-positive, but educates people about the importance of donating.
“When you share your spare, you are saving a life. Living on dialysis is like chemotherapy, except it never ends until you find a kidney,” she said. “When you give a kidney, you are not just saving that individual, you are saving the entire family.
“It’s an amazing gift you can give and be back at work in two weeks,” added Rachel, noting that they have been unable to find a match among family and close friends.
Tony works in SCE’s Substation Construction and Maintenance group. Rachel says much of the $20,000 needed for the transplant surgery has come from SCE employees. At a recent fundraiser with Tony’s work colleagues, more than $6,000 was raised in 30 minutes. Co-workers have also donated vacation hours.
“I was blown away. I couldn’t believe it,” said Tony of his co-workers’ generosity.
The Bollins are also working with the nonprofit HelpHOPELive, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) that helps raise money to pay for additional expenses involved with the kidney surgery, such as travel and other costs for the potential donor. The Bollins’ insurance will cover the donor’s surgery.
After several tests, Tony has now been cleared to have his surgery at UCLA and hopes to have a donor by December. Although Tony is currently on the kidney donor list, the average wait for a kidney is about 10 years, with the demand far outpacing available kidneys.
Currently, there are 118,617 people waiting for lifesaving organ transplants in the U.S. Of this number, 96,645 are waiting for kidney transplants, according to the National Kidney Foundation. Last year, 4,903 people died while awaiting a kidney transplant.
For now, it’s a waiting game for the Bollins.
Tony is on medical leave from his job at SCE. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, his days are spent getting dialysis treatments. The other days he does his best to keep up with his energetic twins.
“All they know is that daddy is funny and does good monster noises,” said Rachel of her twin daughters.
But the longer the wait, the more financial burdens for the Bollins. Tony’s pay is 60 percent of his regular salary while on medical leave and Rachel is not working right now.
“We worry if we can keep the house,” said Rachel. “But our spirits are high. Tony is the most positive human being ever. I am a worrywart, so it’s a great balance.”
Tony is about fifty pounds lighter since his kidney started to fail for the second time. By the end of the day, his energy is sapped. He’ll be on medication for the rest of his life, but he’s eating healthy and avoiding alcohol.
And no matter what, Rachel has hope.
“I’m fighting to get my husband back, as healthy as he was two years ago,” she said. “I refuse to watch my husband die. I won’t let that happen.”
Dan Kaufman contributed to this story.