Kelly Sowatsky needs a new kidney and is trying to get the word out. She sought some help from the Pittsburgh Penguins and their fans on Saturday.
Sowatsky brought a homemade sign stating her need and containing her phone number, and it became a viral sensation after the Penguins shared it during their game against the Montreal Canadiens at PPG Paints Arena.
"I thought it'd be a great idea to make a sign," Sowatsky told NHL.com. "I didn't want to put it out there, but you can't gamble with your life. I need help."
Sowatsky received more than 30 calls and messages on her phone and countless other messages via social media after the Penguins Twitter account shared it. It was Sowatsky's second attempt at getting a kidney at an NHL game this season, the first coming during the Penguins' game against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 3, but the attempt Saturday was more widely received.
"I had feeling when I took [the sign] to PPG Paints Arena, something good would come of it," Sowatsky said. "The outreach has been just incredible ... The words 'thank you' just don't even begin to cover it."
Sowatsky's kidney function has dropped from 75 percent a year ago to roughly 10 percent, which has landed her on potential transplant list. Sowatzky will turn 31 in May, and the waiting list for a new organ is about five years. With her function dropping, plus college graduation in May and a wedding (she is engaged to Tyler Hart) set for May 2019, she decided to put her situation out there.
Her kidney failure is the result of an infection that turned septic and caused a lengthy hospital stay from December 2015 to January 2016, she said. The infection attacked Sowatsky's lungs, and she stopped breathing Dec. 27, 2015. She was on a ventilator for 12 days before the infection attacked her kidneys.
Sowatsky had to relearn to walk, and her muscles atrophied from her time on bed rest. She spent about eight weeks in the hospital. Sowatsky was forced to take a semester off from studying to become an elementary school teacher at Millersville University in Pennsylvania. She met Hart while on break, and he got her into the Penguins.
"I made flash cards with all of the players' names and numbers, so I could impress him that I knew all the players," she said.
Following the Penguins, and their success, has been a distraction for Sowatsky during her illness.
"I just love the team; I love watching them," she said. "There are so many games, and there's always something going on with them. It's fun. It's something my fiance and I enjoy doing together."
Those wishing to help Sowatsky can also email AKidneyForKelly@gmail.com.