Kelly Sowatsky reached out to the hockey community for a kidney, and a fellow Pittsburgh Penguins fan delivered.
Sowatsky, who went viral when she asked for an organ with a poster board and marker sign at a Penguins game in April, received her life-saving transplant from fellow Pittsburgh supporter Jeffrey Lynd on Nov. 6.
Sowatsky had surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, performed by Dr. Amit Tevar. She is feeling great, but is staying in the Pittsburgh area at Family House while she continues to undergo tests. She hopes to be home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania by the end of the week.
"After surgery, I woke up and felt elated to be alive and otherwise healthy, other than just pain because I've got a really radical-looking 10-inch scar on my abdomen now," Sowatsky told NHL.com "But it tells its own story, and it's a beautiful piece of my life. I think when people see that scar it's going to have a story to tell, and I think that's really cool."
Sowatsky's sign that said "Calling All Hockey Fans, I need a Kidney! Kidney! Kidney!" with her phone number on the bottom caught the attention of a massive audience, thanks in part to the Penguins' Twitter account sharing a photo of her. After that viral moment, her condition worsened, with kidney function dipping to 7 percent in the fall, even as she continued to teach at a school for kids with learning disabilities.
"My days were difficult," Sowatsky said. "I would get fatigued quickly, and I was still teaching full time, so my job was very taxing the last couple of months."
But Lynd, a 35-year-old native of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania who now lives in Millsboro, Delaware, read her story and jumped to action. Like Sowatsky, Lynd is a teacher who also shared the same blood type and also is a diehard Penguins and Jake Guentzel fan.
"I was a little kid in the early-90s, when they were winning [Stanley] Cups and it was easy to get attached," Lynd said. "You get attached to the franchise, watching games every other night for six or eight months depending on how the year goes."
Lynd believed all along he would be her donor but didn't find out for certain until August when her previously scheduled donor was disqualified by kidney stones.
"It just felt like the right thing to do," Lynd said. "As bad as she needed this kidney, on my end, I wanted to do this just as badly."
Lynd and Sowatsky will be forever linked through their organ. They shared Thanksgiving lunch together Thursday before Lynd and his wife returned home and marvel at the fast friendship they have formed in the past three months.
"I almost chalk it up to a sibling relationship," Sowatsky said. "We laugh. We cry. We feel each other's pain. It's remarkable the bond we've formed."
With her condition continuing to improve, Sowatsky can focus on good things, like her wedding to her Penguins-loving fiance Tyler Hart on May 4. Hart got Sowatsky into the Penguins, and she appreciates how the team is now integral to her positive prognosis.
"I like to trickle it down, and Jeff likes to trickle it down too. He says my transplant is because of Mario Lemieux, because if Lemieux hadn't saved the team then this wouldn't have happened," Sowatsky said. "I like to trickle it down on my end to Tyler's love for the Penguins, because my love for the Penguins through that, and I met Tyler through happenstance through my schooling, and I just believe that everything happens for a reason."