March marks the start of spring for most people, but for Southern California Edison (SCE) employees Valerie Jason and Tony Bollin this March holds special significance. It marks the first National Kidney Month since Jason donated a kidney so Bollin could get a new lease on life.

Although they both work at SCE, they were strangers before Jason decided to donate her kidney. Because they were not a match, Jason donated her kidney to a third person through what is called a paired exchange. Bollin, in turn, received a healthy one from another donor. The operations happened nine months ago.

"If I had another kidney, I would give another one,” Jason said. “It’s such a simple thing that can save someone else’s life.”

Today, Jason has four little scars on her stomach area, proof of her gift. Besides a few days of discomfort following the operation in June, she is back to running 5Ks with her family.

She also takes the opportunity to tell her donor story whenever she can. At work, she has become the unofficial spokesperson for kidney health and encourages co-workers to consider donating.

Jason recently received a Chairman’s Award — a biennial award given to outstanding SCE employees — for her work as a business analyst at the Bishop Creek Hydro Plant. Part of her nomination included her kidney donation story.

“I try to share my story when I am given the opportunity to show how simple it is,” she said. “These people who are waiting for a donor are like you and I. They have been dealt a hard blow and they need someone to give them a chance for a normal life.”

National Kidney Month is a time to encourage more donors and remind people to be aware of their kidney health.

Kidney disease affects 26 million Americans and is the eighth-leading cause of death in the U.S. Kidneys produce hormones that make red blood cells, control blood pressure and keep bones healthy.

“Once the kidneys fail, dialysis or a kidney transplant is necessary to stay alive,” said Pier Merone, executive director, National Kidney Foundation, Southern California. “The transplant wait list is long — roughly a seven-year wait in California. That’s what makes living donation so important … it’s the ultimate gift of life.”

Jason recently returned from the San Diego area after running another 5K with her family. A runner before her kidney donation, she has become even more health conscious since her surgery.

“I need to stay healthy so I don’t develop kidney problems,” she said. “I want to be around for my family.”