Skip to main content
Home » Transplants » How Hockey, a Homemade Sign, and Social Media Saved a Life

How Hockey, a Homemade Sign, and Social Media Saved a Life

Photos: Courtesy of Pittsburgh Penguins

Kelly Sowatsky’s life changed forever on Christmas Eve in 2015 when she suddenly fell ill. After months in the hospital, she was told she needed a new kidney — and she could be on the waitlist for up to five years.

Unfortunately, that’s not unusual in a country where 33 people die every day waiting to receive an organ transplant, and over 113,000 people are on the waiting list.

Not liking those odds, Sowatsky turned to something that comforted her during her recovery — the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team she and her fiance were ‛obsessed’ with.

She made a sign that read “Calling all hockey fans! I need a kidney!” and took it to Pittsburgh for the March 31, 2018, game against the Montreal Canadiens. The Penguins’ social media team tweeted the photo with the caption “Penguins fan: Seeking hero.”

And in a moment that’s been nominated for ‛Best Feel-Good Moment’ in the 2019 NHL Fan Choice Awards, the heroes responded.

A community comes together

After the local news picked up the story, it spread like wildfire — all the way to Delaware, where lifelong Penguins fan Jeff Lynd saw it. He contacted Sowatsky and, eight months of bonding over their shared love of the team later, he successfully donated his kidney to her.

For their part, the Penguins took their cue from this amazing moment. After inviting both Sowatsky and Lynd to a game where they got to go into the locker room to meet the team, the Penguins have encouraged others to bring similar pleas to games and continues to post photos of them in hopes of helping others. Even better, they’ve begun hosting Donor Awareness Nights sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. These are powerful events, considering the desperate need for organ donations in this country.

Sports fans have always formed a virtual community that transcends geography, social class, and age. For people waiting desperately for a life-saving organ donation, they now form something even better — a miracle.

Jeff Somers, [email protected]

Next article