A kidney for a hero: Englewood man finds donor after sharing his story

Reporter: Sydney Persing Writer: Derrick Shaw
Published: Updated:
Erika Jackson, a former WINK News reporter, helped Sandy Bilsky find a kidney through her reporting.

Sandy Bilsky had two choices.

He could accept his fate or he could fight.

The man hailed as a hero by the Coast Guard for risking his life to save others, needed to find his own hero.

He needed to find someone who could donate a kidney.

No one in his family could give him one so he went public. He humbled himself, hoping to find a donor.

Erika Jackson, a former WINK News reporter, followed Sandy’s story for a year. She captured his joy when so many WINK News viewers stepped up to help. But she also revealed his pain when no one was a match.

Sandy asked for a kidney on the back of his bike, on the trunk of his wife’s car and on a Facebook page. He still had a long bucket list and lots of RV trips to go on with his wife Anne Bilsky.

Sandy Bilsky used to bike around with a sign asking for a kidney. He has now found a donor thanks to sharing his story with WINK News.

“I knew that if I didn’t do it, and I didn’t get a kidney, I would never forgive myself for not having done everything possible to accomplish what I needed to accomplish,” he said.

Despite the effort, no one offered a kidney.

But he never stopped believing someone would help.

“Then Erika picked it up with WINK News,” Sandy said.

Erika read about his fight and drove to Englewood to put his story on the news.

His story touched thousands of viewers.

Many attempted to donate a kidney but were the right match. Erika put his story on the news again.

“Do you feel like the odds are against you,” she asked him.

“I refuse to give up. I’m just too stubborn to give up on this one,” he said.

So was Erika.

“There comes a point with reporting where it stops being work and starts becoming personal and this was one of those situations,” she said from her new job in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Two months before Erika met Sandy, her longtime partner and a dear friend died in a motorcycle crash.

As bad as Bilsky needed a kidney, Erika knew how badly Anne needed her husband.

“The tight hugs I’ve gotten from Sandy and his wife, I felt how important this was, you know, this was a life-or-death situation,” Erika said.

“There really were points when I thought you know, this, I mean, we’re just not going to make it,” Anne added.

But Erika couldn’t let that happen.

Before she took her new job in Charlotte she went back to tell Sandy’s story one last time. And on Nov. 29, a woman named Lori Klein saw it.

“I just, I hit the pause button. And I kept rewinding and watching it over and over. And something just came about me that I had to reach out and contact Sandy,” Lori said.

Lori’s little sister, Carol, Battled lupus.

And then esophageal cancer.

Carol got a kidney from their older sister, but in the end, Carol didn’t make it.

“I think that night I was watching the news, my sister came to me and said, you need to do this,” Lori said.

Lori listened and she decided to see if she was Sandy’s match.

“I’ve always told her, you know, make sure I’m on the right path. If you think I’m stepping off, make sure I’m going the right way. And it keeps leading me to Sandy,” Lori said. “I’m O-positive. So that was a start.”

Sandy doesn’t need an “I need a kidney” sign anymore.

Lori is a near-perfect match.

Their surgeries are scheduled at Tampa General Hospital on March 17.

Sandy Bilsky

“When I look at Sandy, I see somebody that loves life, loves to travel in the RV, loves to be out on the boat on the water and loves his dog and cherishes his beautiful wife,” Lori said. “And I want to be able to give to him to keep going. I mean there’s no stopping us now.”

The two share a love of fishing. When they are healed they’ve plan to go fishing together.

“It couldn’t be a better match,” Sandy said.

And after the fishing trip, Anne’s got another idea.

“Well, the first thing I thought of was jumping in the RV and going to see Erika,” Anne said.

But until then, there is zoom.

Sandy’s lesson to everyone?

When you fight, find people that are willing to fight with you.

“If you had given up on me, I wouldn’t have Lori sitting here. And I wouldn’t have a new lease on life. And I owe my life to both of you. And it just knocks me out every time I think about it,” Sandy said.

Erika called her first story on Sandy, “A hero needs a hero.”

But Sandy said he’s not a hero.

“They are,” he said.

Sandy, Lori and Erika hope this story showed everyone they can save the life of a stranger.


To find out how to help, visit the National Kidney Foundation.

Read WINK News stories on Sandy’s search below.

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