After years of basketball, moving, traveling, and more basketball, a newspaper article brought Billy Gillispie and Ericka Downey together. Stricken with kidney disease, the former Kentucky basketball coach found hope, and a new kidney, from a stranger.
“I was just sitting on the floor cleaning and I took a break,” Downey told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “I came across a story in the Dallas Morning News about Coach Gillispie. I just immediately felt I was supposed to help.”
The wife of a nomadic college coach, Downey’s decision to pursue a kidney donation had nothing to do with basketball and everything to do with faith.
“I think that’s where the initial tug came from,” she said. “Obviously, we don’t have Jesus sitting right next to us to have those conversations. But when you’re founded in faith, He’s present in what I feel is the Holy Spirit.
“It was faith initiated. It was emotionally tied to basketball, but it was faith initiated. And it has turned into such a blessing not only for me and my family, but as a way to talk about this. It’s given a platform to help others. I read there are 116,000 people still waiting on the donor list for a transplant. And we all have two kidneys.”
The procedure has been approved by the Mayo Clinic and for the first time, Gillispie and Downey met Thursday night at the Final Four (with a little help from Bob Huggins).