Highland IL basketball coach gets new kidney for Christmas
A Highland coach who was battling health issues received a special Christmas present this year: a new kidney.
Deryl Cunningham, 50, of Glen Carbon is the college basketball coach for Highland High School. In October 2020, he tested positive for COVID-19, which worsened other underlying health issues and put him on the list for kidney transplants. For 13 months, he had to keep a catheter implanted in his chest and undergo kidney dialysis to stay alive.
Cunningham’s sister, Charise Walker, took over.
“I haven’t requested a kidney from any member of my family,” Cunningham said.
But the family was talking about the situation, and Walker immediately volunteered to donate a kidney to his brother. Unfortunately, she was not compatible, but other family members tested without telling Cunningham.
Cunningham believed his cousin, Tanya Woods, was visiting St. Louis for work. Next, Walker told her she was up to a kidney and was willing and eager to donate.
“I pretty much fell out of bed,” Cunningham said. “I said to myself, ‘Am I dreaming? “”
The family had not informed Cunningham of the tests in case there was no match.
Woods donated his kidney to Cunningham on December 1 at SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital. A few days later, Cunningham was walking alone and the catheter was removed.
“I was really grateful for what the two did,” he said.
He had been overwhelmed by many details and his sister had “been looking after me” for over a year. Dialysis days sometimes lasted 17 hours or more, and sometimes he said he had “struggled”.
Woods had no doubts or reservations about donating his kidney, and Cunningham said he was “very blessed and grateful” as he celebrated Christmas with the family.
“This is my Christmas present,” he said.
Meanwhile, HHS athletic director Amy Lynn Boscolo had led a fundraiser for Cunningham’s family earlier this year, including a GoFundMe to help with medical bills. As of December 22, they had raised $ 42,918 of their goal of $ 50,000.
It wasn’t something Cunningham had been looking for, either.
“At first me and my pride… I was in the hospital, so I didn’t even know this was happening,” he said. “I said I am not asking anyone for money, I will take all the prayers in the world.”
People wanted to help, however, her mother and sister pointed out to her, and the medical bills were “large” despite Medicare.
“It has been an absolute blessing,” he said. “I am very grateful to the Highland community, the coaching community, the Chicago community, all of the friends and family who have been so generous.”
Back on the sidelines
Cunningham says he’ll be back on the sidelines in January.
“I met the doctors yesterday and they told me I was doing extremely well,” he said. “What they said was that they don’t worry about me, just the others around me, with the new variant. I will follow their orders.
Corn Cunningham can’t wait to come back and works to rebuild her strength by walking around the neighborhood. While in hospital, he had discovered a mile-long run through the hallways and managed to complete it before he was even released.
“I won’t jog, but I can jog,” he said.
Cunningham has been the Highland High School varsity basketball coach for three years, although he is not a teacher in the district. He graduated from Westchester St. Joseph High School in 1989 and attended Kansas State University.
Prior to coming to Highland, he coached for four years at Gateway Legacy Christian Academy in Granite City and was an assistant coach at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.