Men's Basketball

‘Lucky and blessed’ Billy Gillispie talks about potential life-saving kidney transplant

Former Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie, shown in 2008, now serves as athletics director at Ranger College and needs a kidney transplant after suffering from years of high blood pressure. A match stepped forward and the procedure has was completed April 24.
Former Kentucky head coach Billy Gillispie, shown in 2008, now serves as athletics director at Ranger College and needs a kidney transplant after suffering from years of high blood pressure. A match stepped forward and the procedure has was completed April 24. AP

In his first public comments since a woman stepped forward to potentially donate what could be a life-saving kidney, former Kentucky men’s basketball coach Billy Gillispie said he feels blessed that the process has gone this far.

In a story published Wednesday by SportsDay.DallasNews.com, Gillispie, 58, talks about learning that a woman he’s never met has stepped up as a potential kidney donor, though he’s been advised not to say too much.

“They don’t want people saying things because they don’t want to put any additional pressure,” he told the Dallas News’ Brad Townsend. “(Donors) could change their minds at any time, which would be totally understandable.

“I understand that. Heck, I feel awfully lucky and blessed that she’s gone this far. It’s just so nice. She must be an angel to even consider it.”

Gillispie, a former head coach at Kentucky, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, is now the athletics director at Ranger College in Ranger, Texas. He had to give up head coaching duties there when he was diagnosed with kidney failure believed caused by years of high-blood pressure.

In a television interview published Wednesday on Fox23.com, Gillispie said of the possibility of a transplant that “It’s mind-boggling to me that someone would be so kind and so — it’s just like an angel — it’s just amazing that anybody would be that selfless and that sacrificing for someone they don’t really know.”

That someone is Ericka Downey, the wife of Northeastern State University men’s basketball head coach Mark Downey, who saw a story on Gillispie’s plight and felt moved to find out whether she would be a donor match. Initial tests revealed she was. She will have more testing at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota next week to be sure.

If all goes well, the two plan to meet for the first time at the Final Four in San Antonio. Gillispie has known Mark Downey for years but met him before he married Ericka. They were coaching acquaintances, but nothing more.

In a story last month by Hayes Gardner for the Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com, Ericka Downey spoke of the moment she told her husband about her desire to help Gillispie.

“I walked into the living room where my husband was watching TV and just stood there and said, ‘Hey, you’re gonna think I’m crazy, but I feel like I need to try to donate (my kidney) for Coach Gillispie,” Downey recalled. “He laughed and we laughed and he said, ‘You are crazy,’ and we said, ‘We already knew that.’”

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