When the home phone rang at 8:29 a.m. on April Fool’s Day, Rachel Bollin was in no mood for jokes. But it was the hospital with news she had been waiting for for more than a year: her husband Tony is getting a healthy kidney and the surgery will be taking place at the end of this month.
“I started crying. The hospital said ‘this is the call you have been waiting for,’” said Rachel, who lives in Corona with her family. “I was just so used to bad news.”
She immediately called Tony, 50, who was heading in for an extra dialysis treatment because fluid had accumulated in his lungs. He was pulling into the parking lot when Rachel told him the news.
“I woke up this morning and I can finally see the light at the end of tunnel,” said Tony. “I’m pretty excited.”
The news was made even more special because the donor is Tony’s co-worker at Southern California Edison (SCE). They’ve never met before, but “Sally” (who wished to remain anonymous) reached out to the Bollins shortly after their story appeared on the Edison newsroom. They’ve been corresponding on Facebook since then.
It was in March 2013 that Tony — who works in SCE’s Substation Construction and Maintenance group — first learned his kidney was failing for the second time, and he desperately needed a donor. He’s been undergoing dialysis treatments three times a week and his health has slowly deteriorated.
Soon after they learned of Tony’s plight, his co-workers in Transmission & Distribution held an impromptu fundraiser and raised more than $6,000 in 30 minutes. Some even donated their vacation hours. A story on Tony’s search for a kidney donor appeared on the company’s online newsroom. Within days, several SCE employees stepped forward to get tested. Some were even identified as potential matches.
In the end, Sally passed all the tests and was picked as the perfect match to donate her kidney to Tony.
“We thought the donor would be a friend or someone who follows us on Facebook. Never in a million years did I think it would be someone from SCE,” said Rachel. “We wouldn’t have found [Sally] without your story. You all participated in saving Tony’s life.”
On April 7, the Bollins hope to finally get their wish to meet Sally and thank her in person. They will all be at the UCLA Medical Center, where Tony will have his surgery, for one final test to ensure both Tony and Sally’s blood still mix well together.
It was shortly after reading Tony’s story that Sally went home during her lunch break to check her daughter’s birth certificate and see if her blood type was O-positive, like Tony’s. It was and she called the hospital to start the testing process.
Recently, she spoke to her husband and three kids to discuss her decision to be a kidney donor. Her husband’s come around, but her kids still have some concerns.
“My son has been as he calls it ‘a little freaked out,’ but was much better yesterday when I told him I had been cleared for surgery,” said Sally. “My parents think I have lost my mind.”
Sally believes a higher calling has led to her being a perfect match for Tony and has been preparing for the upcoming surgery. She’s cut back on coffee and alcohol, and has started running on weekends to try and lose some weight.
“There have been a lot of ups and downs in this journey,” said Sally. “There were a few times when I got information that I might not be allowed to donate and it was very disappointing, but there have been moments like yesterday where I feel God is using me to really help a family in need and it feels wonderful. This journey has really strengthened my faith.”
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.
“We are so grateful for [Sally] and this gift,” said Rachel, who is busy preparing for Tony’s upcoming surgery. Her mother will be heading down from Napa to help take care of their two-year-old twin daughters, Nora and Brooke. She will also be busy getting orders filled for the family’s new environmentally-friendly business, “B & N Laundry.”
“What once we perceived as horrible is coming to an end. Looking back, it turned into the greatest thing ever,” said Rachel, who always wanted to start her own business, but never would have until Tony got sick. “I have learned how great people are.”
These days, Tony reserves all his energy to play with his daughters. With his long-awaited surgery scheduled for April 30, he’s been diligently preparing his body. He’s been increasing his protein intake and avoiding all foods with phosphorous.
“It’s awesome. I’m totally stoked. I haven’t even met her,” said Tony, of his donor and upcoming surgery. With a chuckle, he adds: “I want to give her a big hug, but I’ll probably have to kick Rachel out of the way.”
He gets emotional when he thinks of all the people who have helped him along this difficult journey.
“There are so many people who have done stuff for us,” said Tony. “I want to thank everyone for helping my family.”
For more information about the Bollins and their journey in search of a kidney donor, visit their Facebook page. For more information about kidney donation and how to get tested, contact the UCLA Medical Center at: 310-267-6910.