Tahlequah Woman To Donate Kidney To College Basketball Coach

Sunday, March 25th 2018, 10:48 pm
By: Jonathan Huskey

This week's winning call belongs to the amazing story of a Tahlequah woman and a decision to give.

They say coaching is a fraternity. Never is that truer than for the head coach at Northeastern State and his wife.

If you're a college basketball fan, you know the name Billy Gillispie. 

He racked up 148 wins while prowling the sidelines at UTEP, Texas A&M, Kentucky and Texas Tech 

He also spent time at Tulsa as an assistant under Bill Self. Now, he's the head coach and athletic director at Ranger College in Texas and he needs a kidney transplant.

"I knew I had to get involved," said Ericka Downey. 

Ericka is a mom of two and the wife of Mark Downey, head coach at Northeastern State. She's Billy Gillispie's kidney donor even though she's never met him.

"I knew who he was, and I grew up in Arkansas, was an SEC fan, always well aware of Kentucky's legacy," Ericka said.  

Ericka first learned of Gillispie's health scare late last year, thanks to a Dallas news article she happened to come across while cleaning her closet.

"For whatever reason, I was taking a break, sitting down on my closet floor and just picked up my cell phone and started going through social media when I came across this story,” Ericka said.  

"I knew that I could be an advocate and that's where I could start. That's what I could do in the right then, right now moment," she said. 

She still had to tell her husband, who has known coach Gillispie for years through the fraternity that is college coaching.

"He was laying on the couch Sunday after church and I walked into the living room and just said, 'Uh, you're going to think I'm crazy, but...'," Ericka said.

"This is a Godly calling and she's heard that call, and I'm not going to change her mind," said Ericka’s husband Mark.  

"Once they found out that I had the proper blood type, then they sent me a blood test kit, and that came back on February 9, is when I got the official, 'Yes, you're a match.'," Ericka said. 

After each positive test, the reality of the situation became more and more apparent. But, through it all, as time passes, the Downey’s say it's their faith that keeps them strong.

"The tests kept coming back positive, positive, positive, everything's a match, so then it started to get a little bit serious," Mark said.  

"That was kind of our confirmation that God is in the midst of this and that I'll be taken care of regardless of the outcome," Ericka said.  

Beyond Mark's relationship with coach Gillispie in the fraternity that is college basketball, the Downey’s have a terribly personal connection to the situation as well. Mark's father passed away from renal disease.

"You get two kidneys and you only need one, so if you give one up, what's going to happen if the other one fails," said Mark.  

Ericka Downey: "When I explained to him that I really felt like it was God calling me to do it, then he couldn't argue with that," Ericka said.  

Next is three days of testing at the Mayo Clinic then a trip to San Antonio for the Final Four, where Ericka will get to meet coach Gillispie for the first time.

"As I'm getting closer and closer to it, it is a little emotional. It's exciting, for me," Ericka said. 

Assuming all goes well, surgery will be sometime next month or early May.

"There'll be some nervous times, but it's what's right," Mark said.

"I would just like to get that final, all clear, let's do this," Ericka said. 

A coach, a family, and the most selfless act imaginable.