Tony Bollin’s life is back to normal, and things couldn’t be better.
He wakes up each workday at 5 a.m., doing his best not to wake his 2-year-old twin girls, Nora and Brooke. By 7 a.m., he’s in Westminster, part of a group that builds and rebuilds bulk transformers at Southern California Edison (SCE).
It’s a nine-hour-day work routine that he thought might never happen again. It was a year and a half ago that Tony learned his kidney had failed for the second time and he desperately needed a new one.
“I’m excited to be back. I’m feeling a lot better compared to the last couple of years,” said Tony, who recently surprised close to 300 co-workers at the annual Substation Construction Employee Contributions/All Hands Meeting in Alhambra. “It was cool to see my co-workers who I haven’t seen in quite a long time.”
Tony owes a lot to his co-workers, many of whom donated vacation hours and money while he was sick. In one fundraising effort, employees in his Transmission & Distribution department raised $6,000 in less than one hour. The Bollins also never missed a paycheck, thanks to the donated time from co-workers.
After a story about Tony’s search for a kidney donor appeared on the company’s online newsroom, several co-workers stepped forward to help. In the end, SCE employee Valerie Jason would help Tony get a new kidney through a paired exchange where the person who needs a kidney brings along someone who is willing to donate a healthy kidney on their behalf.
“Thank you to everyone for what they’ve done for me,” said Tony, who officially returned to work on Oct. 14. “It all means so much.”
Tony brought along his wife, Rachel, and their twin girls to the recent All-Hands meeting. It was also a chance to reunite with Valerie, who has fast become a close family friend. The last time Valerie and Tony saw each other was in June when both were at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to have their respective surgeries.
Valerie was only in the hospital for a day before she headed back north, where she works at SCE’s Bishop Creek Hydro Plant. Tony is doing well four months after his surgery, regaining his color and gaining back 30 pounds. No longer requiring three-times-a-week dialysis treatments, his doctor visits have now been reduced to once a month.
“It just seems like I’ve known the Bollins forever,” said Valerie, who talks to Rachel regularly. “It was an awesome experience to be able to help someone like this. It is one of the highlights of my life.”
Valerie has never regretted her decision to donate and encouraged others to reach out to fellow co-workers in need.
“It was an awesome experience,” she said. I encourage everyone to “look for ways to help anyone you come across.”
Rachel recounted at the All-Hands meeting what the past year and a half has been like for her family. It was a journey that has aged her, she said, recalling the desperation and exhaustion she felt doing everything she could to help save her husband’s life.
“I think I forgot how awful and stressful it was, where Tony was just trying to make it through the day,” she said. “Tony looks the same as before, but I look like I’ve aged 15 years.” But, she added, “I’m grateful it’s over and glad he’s back to work.”
It was at another All-Hands meeting more than a year ago that Rachel first reached out to Tony’s co-workers for help. Dale Mendoza, an SCE manager in Transmission & Distribution, recalls the mountain of bills, many of them $100 bills, that people had donated and seeing the tears pouring down Rachel’s face.
Like many of the co-workers, Dale is happy to see Tony back, but realizes he will need to ease back into his old work routine.
“We told Rachel we will take care of him,” he said. “He will be working within his comfort zone.”
These days, twins Nora and Brooke are getting used to mornings without their daddy, seeming to grasp that their father is now feeling better. To make ends meets when Tony was sick, Rachel started her own business, B&N Laundry, an environmentally friendly laundry company. Today, the laundry products are in 30 stores.
Rachel’s days of endless calls to doctors and updates with the kidney coordinator are now filled with making laundry soap and fulfilling endless orders.
“I have to close the door and move on,” she said. “It all happened in a year. We are a perfectly normal family now.”