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Ronnie Thomas

Rocky Gillespie, right, with wife Tara and stepson Blaine Williams at their home in Decatur. Doctors transplanted both of Rocky's lungs.
Daily photo by Brennen Smith
Rocky Gillespie, right, with wife Tara and stepson Blaine Williams at their home in Decatur. Doctors transplanted both of Rocky's lungs.

Hartselle man breathing again after transplant

HARTSELLE — Tell Rocky Gillespie dreams don't come true, that there's no such thing as a miracle carpet ride. Then hear his story.

Picture him lying face down and praying on red carpet at Calvary Assembly of God, an oxygen tank strapped to his back, plastic tubing stretching into his nostrils so he can breathe.

That was April Fool's Day, as the Hartselle man, 33, continued his lifelong battle against cystic fibrosis, which doctors said should have killed him as an infant.

Even though he doubted, he said, God reminded him that day about his dream, a year earlier at The University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital.

"My dream was about being on red carpet and being healed in front of a large church," he said. "God told me to have faith and to start telling people I'm healed, even though it hasn't manifested."

In August 2006, with his pulmonary functions declining, a doctor told him he should be on a transplant list. He had six to eight months to live.

He came home to his wife, Tara, and stepson Blaine Williams, 10, but lost sight of a lot of things, he said, including family and what God had called him to do. He had shut people out and quit his voluntary job as youth pastor at New Song Family Church.

He spent most of the following October at UAB as his condition worsened.

"I couldn't walk, and I couldn't breathe. I had to crawl to the bathroom," he said. "I balked at the transplant, which would be both lungs, a rarity. I thought I could make it with treatments."

He came home to be with his stepson for Halloween and his wife drove him back the next day to complete what would be a two-month stay. During November, a friend, Chris Shumake of Danville, visited and told Gillespie that God wasn't finished with him.

"Chris began to make me realize that I did have a greater purpose on this earth," he said. "That's when I started to go forward with living and get listed for a transplant."

While still at UAB, Gillespie contacted the lead singer of a band called Will To Live and told him about his plight.

"I like their music, and being a musician myself, we had a lot to talk about," Gillespie said. "He was inspiring, and I got one of their T-shirts."

Guidance from above

Late in 2006, Gillespie said, God led him and his family to Calvary. On Feb. 7, after a three-month battery of tests, he made the transplant list.

After what he calls "God's reaffirmation," he was going to be all right the day he was face down on the carpet. Gillespie said people questioned him.

"They'd say, 'Hold up a minute. You still have this (oxygen) tank with you.' I told them to just wait and see what God does in the next couple of months. I put that on my profile on MySpace."

Tara Gillespie said the family kept their bags packed, waiting for a call from the UAB transplant team. It came May 29.

"He told me that as soon as a surgeon arrived to retrieve the lungs, they would measure them and call me back," Rocky Gillespie said. "It was a match, and Tara drove Blaine and I down. We arrived about 1 p.m., and surgery started at 8:30. They finished up the next day at 12:30 a.m."

Gillespie said he recalls little of the next week because of pain medication. But soon, he was walking two laps around the unit, then 20, which was a mile.

Three weeks later, doctors released him from UAB to a nearby townhouse for another two weeks. He came home July 2, but made weekly visits for checkups.

"On July 25, my doctor told me I was doing so well, not to return for six weeks," he said. "Is it a miracle? Yeah, it's a miracle."

Gillespie said he can't describe what he feels for the donor and his family. He said he would get a chance to write them through a liaison.

"If they want to write me back, then I'll make contact," he said. "I'm working on the letter now."

And remember the red carpet in Gillespie's dream? A Calvary church official said it had been mauve, a pale lavender-lilac color.

"We dyed it red about two years ago," he said.

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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