On Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena, Kelly Sowatsky and her fiancé Tyler Hart watched their beloved Pittsburgh Penguins clinch their 12th consecutive playoff appearance with a 5-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens.
Sowatsky’s love for the team blossomed from her relationship with Hart and the two have been to numerous games over the course of the last two seasons, but Saturday night’s game meant a little more to the 30 year old from Lancaster, PA.
With her, she carried a homemade sign with a special message she wanted to get as many eyes on as possible. Sowatsky is a candidate for a kidney transplant and is desperately searching for a donor to help save her life. She turned her passion for the Penguins into an opportunity to find the help she needs.
Penguins fan: Seeking hero. pic.twitter.com/jAeA81Wny7— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 31, 2018
Hockey is an escape for Sowatsky during her fight and she cannot be more thankful for what the Penguins have given her during her time as a fan.
“These guys are giving it all they’ve got, they love doing it, and I love watching that,” she said during a phone interview Sunday night. “It’s just a great distraction for me.”
In December of 2015, while cooking Christmas Eve dinner for her family, Sowatsky suddenly fell ill and had to be rushed to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and eventually had to be placed on a ventilator because her condition worsened drastically. She was placed on a rigorous regimen of antibiotics to help kill off the infection but little did her doctors know how of shape she was in at the time.
“I was diagnosed with a UTI and it quickly turned septic and attacked my lungs,” she said describing her condition. “I had to be put on a ventilator for 12 days and eventually had to relearn to walk after my muscles atrophied because I couldn’t get out of bed.”
When the antibiotics wore off and Sowatsky complained of back pain it was discovered the infection had already turned septic. The sepsis had poisoned her body and as a result her kidneys began to fail. Over the course of two years since her initial stay in the hospital, Sowatsky’s kidneys have gone from fully healthy to functioning at only 10%. Due to the severity of her condition, Sowatsky has been placed on the donor waiting list but it could be up to five years before she is selected.
This all leads us to Saturday night at PPG Paints Arena where Sowatsky and her sign were in attendance amongst her fellow Penguins fans. One side was a message to other fans about her situation along with a phone number they could contact if they could possibly be of any help to her in this fight.
After trying the sign once at a Penguins game against the New Jersey Devils in Newark, Sowatsky decided to give it another go, this time in a building with a few more friendly faces around her.
“The fans at the game on Saturday night were amazing to say the least,” said Sowatsky. “I couldn’t believe the reception the sign got right off the bat.”
On the other side of the sign was a message along the same lines, except it was aimed at one person in particular. Her favorite player Jake Guentzel.
“I was a big Marc-Andre Fleury fan and it broke my heart when he left but they have a lot of awesome players so I fell for Jake.” said Sowatsky. “I love all the players and it’s really hard to pick just one but I really like what Jake did for us last year.”
Within minutes of unveiling her sign during pregame warmups, Sowatsky was approached by a member of the Penguins social media team for a picture. Before she knew it, she was a viral sensation and her message was reaching fans across the league.
“This has completely restored my faith in humanity and given me the hope I desperately needed to know this can happen,” said Sowatsky.
Before she met her fiancé Tyler, Sowatsky had very little familiarity with the sport of hockey but quickly became hooked when she started tuning in.
“I found out he was obsessed with the Penguins and I began tuning in to watch as well,” stated Sowatsky when asked how she discovered the sport. “Hockey is something Tyler and I can bond over and a way for us to spend time with one another through this whole process.”
Tyler, a hockey player himself, discussed what hockey as meant during this fight and the positive impact it has had on their relationship.
“What you have to know about Kelly is everything she does she’s going at 110%,” said Hart. “When we first started dating, she saw that I loved hockey and she just took it and ran with it.”
“It means everything, whether it’s hockey or it’s Star Wars just having that joint effort in loving something.”
For Sowatsky, watching the Penguins and the sport she has fell in love with has given her an escape from the reality she faces everyday with her health. The Penguins are a constant source of joy in her life, even if the result on the ice is not always the one she is hoping for.
When the Penguins play, she can sit on her couch with her fiancé and get lost in the action as Sidney Crosby does what Sidney Crosby does or Matt Murray makes a key save to preserve a lead. Whatever the case, Penguins’ hockey is just what the doctor ordered and Sowatsky jumps at the chance to see them in person whenever she can.
“Even on the nights that I don’t feel well and they have a game it is something I can sit down in my own home and watch,” she says. “Whether they are winning or losing it doesn’t really matter, I just love watching the team.”
“It’s a great distraction for me and it’s something Tyler and I can do together that we both enjoy.”
Sowatsky succeed in getting her story out and in return has received overwhelming support in her search for a kidney donor. From being featured on the Penguins twitter account to having a special piece published on NHL.com, Sowatsky is grateful for all who have reached out to her since Saturday night.
“I’m okay and I’m pushing through it but the goal here is to get through my surgery and get on with my life,” she said. “I want to graduate, I want to get a job, I want to marry the love of my life next year and we want a family. There are so many milestones I have left to reach and I refuse to let this get in the way of that.”
The outpouring of support has also given Sowatsky renewed hope a donor is out there and she’ll get a kidney and be able to move on with her life in the future.
“With all of the support and all of the outreach and the hundreds of people who have asked how to go about seeing if they are a match for me I know there is one person out there who is going to save my life.”
If you or anyone you know may be interested in helping Kelly out in anyway, she provided us with the following information about how you can get in contact with her.
To contact Kelly directly:
Google Voice: 717-456-0766 (Messages sent through this number go to her email where she can view them.)
To contact Johns Hopkins directly:
Phone: 410-614-9345 (You may need to provide her name ‘Kelly Sowatsky’ and her date of birth ‘05/18/1987’ if you choose this method.)
Kelly also disclosed that her blood type is ‘A’ for anyone who may be interested in becoming her donor.
Hi everyone! I’m the girl in the photo! My blood type is A+, but can enter a donor swap program with me to find a kidney (someone else in need would have a donor that matches me!) the Johns Hopkins donor office # is 410-614-9345. They will get you started with paperwork!— Kelly Sowatsky (@ksowatsky3) March 31, 2018
From everyone here at Pensburgh, we wish Kelly the best of luck in her search for a kidney donor. Stay strong and Let’s Go Pens.