ENGLEWOOD — A man who saved three people from drowning, Sandy Bilsky is now trying to save his own life.
The 78-year-old was diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure. His kidneys don’t filter wastes and excess fluids from his blood, causing electrolytes and waste to build up in his body.
As a result he spends half of his time in dialysis.
“My system isn’t doing well with that,” he said. “To survive, I need a kidney donor — quickly. While I am registered with Tampa General and The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, I’ve been told it’s a five-year wait with 100,000 people in front of me. I won’t make it.”
With end-stage renal disease, a patient often needs dialysis or a kidney transplant in to stay alive. Bilsky has been battling the disease since April 2019.
“I’m not looking for money, food — I am looking for help saving my life,” said the retired real estate senior negotiator. “We found out my kidneys weren’t functioning through blood tests. I have hypertension. When you negotiate for the largest private real estate company in the world, that puts a little bit of stress on the body.
“I had a very busy business career and on airplanes three, four, five days a week,” he said. “I didn’t have diabetes or heart disease, which are the main causes for kidney failure. My blood type is 0+ which puts me further behind because it only matches with 0-.”
Bilsky says he’s always been like the Energizer Bunny and doesn’t live like a typical 78-year-old. He loves “heavy gardening,” sailing, fishing and bike riding.
“Before I got sick, my wife Anne and I took six-month RV trips through Canada and Alaska. I never sat down before. During my time in Englewood, I’ve saved three people from drowning in the Gulf outside of Stump Pass.”
Bilsky received two letters of commendation from U.S Coast Guard Commandants for his brave acts. He is the Diversity Officer for Englewood Coast Guard Auxiliary, Flotilla 87.
“I do not consider myself a hero, but frankly speaking, I now need a hero to save my life,” he said. “The only solution is to find a kidney donor on my own. I am doing everything possible. I have a Facebook page devoted to this search. I’ve done mass mailings to everyone I know. There’s a sign in the back of my car window, etc.”
Before Christmas, Bilsky received more bad news.
“I was diagnosed with Steal Syndrome,” he said. “During dialysis and anytime my left arm is bent, it goes entirely numb and I lose all feeling in my fingers. This is caused by the fistula and dialysis process stealing the blood that is supposed to be flowing through my whole left arm.”
Bilsky learned the syndrome only afflicts a small percentage of dialysis patients.
“If not corrected rapidly, I could lose permanently the function of my left hand,” he said. “I need ... surgery where a section of my vein is removed from my thigh and attached it to the artery in my left arm. It is then run down through my arm to my left hand, providing a steady blood flow to my lower arm and hand.”
Bilsky said despite doing everything right, his body still required dialysis. Now, he spends time explaining about living kidney donations based on blood type and tissue type.
If anyone wants to give Bilsky a kidney, but they are not a match, their kidney doesn’t go to him, but to the next person in the program who is a match.
“I then move up the list and get a kidney that is my match from a stranger,” he said, adding it could reduce his wait time to about a year.
“I explain (that) everyone cannot be a donor,” he said. “I ask some basic health questions. Then I refer people to various national websites. A donor will spend zero out-of-pocket costs. My insurance covers everything. The donor would be in the hospital for two or three days and will have follow up appointments with doctors at my cost.
“It’s set up nicely to help the donor. I have so much more information I can share with a potential donor match. I just hope I have that opportunity real soon. I’m not going to give up. It’s not my time.”