Coach Billy Donovan knows how to win big. Before transitioning into the NBA, he led the Florida Gator’s basketball team in back-to-back national championships. But he knows what it’s like to lose big, too.
When he and his wife lost a child, he knew exactly where to turn.
On the evening of November 1, 2000, Donovan and his wife were laying in bed when Christine expressed concern over the fact that she hadn’t felt her baby move in almost 24 hours. That was unusual for a baby that was due to arrive in 8 days. The following morning, she went to see the doctors while Coach Donovan prepared for an out-of-state trip. When the phone rang a couple of hours later, the only sound Donovan could hear was that of Christine crying on the other end.
Finally, she whispered, “I lost the baby.”
Of course, the baby still had to be delivered, so later that day, the Donovans walked into a brightly decorated Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida where dozens of other mothers would celebrate the birth of children that day. But that joy would elude the Donovans; when Christine delivered Baby Jacqueline later that day, it was discovered that the umbilical cord had wrapped so tightly around her tiny ankle that oxygen had been cut off.
After Christine stabilized, Donovan left the hospital to go home and tell their other three children the awful news. While stopped at a traffic light en route, he looked over to the church located at the intersection. It was the marquee sign that caught his eye; it read, “God is Good All the Time.”
“What’s good about this?” and “What do we do now?” wondered Donovan.
Then he remembered there was someone he could turn to in this trying moment, his assistant coach, Anthony Grant.
On February 6, 1999, the Gators had a home game against Ole Miss in the O’Connell Center. But Coach Grant wouldn’t make it because his wife, Christina, was having complications with their second child, Baby Brandon. She’d stopped by the gym earlier that day to tell her husband that there was a strange tightness in her stomach…and she hadn’t felt the baby move in a while.
Rushed to the hospital, Christina was soon hooked up to every scanner available. Sadly, the doctors could not find a heartbeat. At eight-and-a-half months, Ms. Grant’s placenta had burst, causing the little boy to die in the womb. Making matters worse, the 29-year-old coach was then told that his wife might also lose her life during the birthing process. Fortunately, Christina survived the complicated procedure, and she left the hospital a week later.
Because of the pain the Grants had faced 18 months earlier, they were able to help the Donovans during their crisis. But little did either family know that, together, they’d help yet one more Florida Gator coaching family through this shared tragedy.
Early on the morning of August 22, 2003, John Pelphrey, now the head coach of South Alabama, arrived at Coach Donovan’s house in Gainesville still wearing his scrubs from the hospital. Pelphrey had coached for Donovan for six seasons before taking the lead position at SA. Though Coach Pelphrey and his wife, Tracy, had left the Gator squad the previous season, they’d wanted the same doctors in Gainesville to deliver their third child, John Patrick.
But the trip back home to familiarity was rocked by gut-wrenching loss. Tracy’s pregnancy with John Patrick was plagued by isoimmunization, as was her previous pregnancy with daughter Grace. Like the first pregnancy, doctors made injections directly into the umbilical cord to ensure his healthy development. Unfortunately, the procedure caused internal bleeding which wasn’t discovered until too late.
Baby John died in the womb.
Like Coach Grant’s wife, Christina, Coach Pelphrey’s wife, Tracy, underwent an emergency procedure which almost cost her life, as well. When she was finally stabilized, Coach Pelphrey went to see the only couple he knew could offer the support and care he needed: Billy and Christine Donovan.
Several times each year before their move to Oklahoma City, Bill and Christine Donovan would make a trip to Forest Meadows Funeral Home Cemetery off of NW 23rd Ave. in Gainesville. There, Christine would lovingly and tearfully clean the headstones of not one, but three tiny graves.
Three dates. Three families. Three losses.
All of us experience pain and suffering. In those moments, we usually wonder why we must endure such hardships. Perhaps it’s so we can help those who will experience the same.
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