Erika Downey donates kidney to Billy Gillespie
TNE Editor

Erika Downey donates kidney to Billy Gillespie

Published 4/8/18

Jesse Crittenden

TNE Writer

Billy Gillespie, Ranger College Athletic Director, has been a revered head coach for the last three decades. In December, he found out that he was suffering from kidney failure. In a story to the Dallas Morning News, the 58-year-old head coach was told he was in need of a kidney transplant. A few days later, Ericka Downey, a 33-year old medical device salesperson and the wife of NSU’s men’s basketball head coach Mark Downey, saw the story.

Downey was cleaning her closet after coming home from a business trip. She took a break to scroll through social media, where she found the Dallas Morning news story regarding Gillespie’s kidney problems.

“Right then, I just felt that I needed to do something,” said Downey.

The news of Gillespie’s significant health concerns has made waves throughout the college basketball world. Gillespie is one of the most well-known coaches in basketball, with head coaching positions at UTEP, Texas A&M, Kentucky, Texas Tech and a former assistant at the University of Tulsa. He was selected as the Big 12 coach of the year award in 2005 and 2007 and was the SEC co-coach of the year in 2008.

The only connection Downey had to Gillespie was through her husband Mark, who was a junior college coach at Independence Community College in Kansas in the late 90’s. Gillespie met Mark one day when Gillespie came down to scout one of Downey’s players.

Downey started sharing the story across different forms of social media in an attempt to find possible donations to Gillespie and his family. Then she realized maybe she could do something more.

“I also felt immediately that I needed to try to see if I could be a (kidney) donor for him,” said Downey. “So I thought about it, prayed about it and the feeling didn’t go away.”

After going through the proper procedures, including a Mayo Clinic questionnaire in Rochester, Minn., blood and urine samples, Downey was informed by the Mayo Clinic on Feb. 9 that she was indeed a match for Gillespie and that she needed to come to Minnesota for additional testing.

During the middle of January, a former assistant of Gillespie reached out to Downey. They told her Gillespie was aware of her efforts and wanted to express his appreciation. The two communicated for the first time a couple of days later and have remained in communication throughout this process.

For coach Mark Downey, it speaks not only to his wife’s selflessness but also to the tight-knit community of basketball.

“As she’s said a million times, this business is a fraternity and a family,” said Mark Downey. “We all go through things that people just don’t understand. With everything that this business has become at the highest level, it’s become a pretty stressful career, but we’re all in this together.”

Ericka left on a flight from Tulsa to Minnesota on Sunday, March 25, where she underwent further testing. Depending on the results of the tests, the surgery is tentatively figured to be in late April or early May.

“This just shows what people are about and the true colors of the people in this business, and she’s definitely apart of it,” Mark said. “For her to do this for another coach, it’s pretty neat.”

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