Imagine waking up and being told you only have seven days to live. That was the reality of native Memphian, spiritual speaker, and proud community advocate, Erskine Gillespie, in March of 1995.
The ABC24 Community Engagement Manager and Mid-South Transplant Foundation (MSTF) Advocate is a true Samaritan— devoted to improving the lives of others through acts of service and goodwill. As a dedicated volunteer for various Shelby County initiatives, Erskine fully developed the Pearly Gate Baptist Church’s youth program, which positively impacted the lives of at-risk, intercity youth.
“That’s how we help our city to become better.”
After years of experiencing strange bouts of recurring illness, Erskine’s doctors discovered he needed a liver transplant and was given a one-week life sentence.
Although debilitating symptoms included profound lethargy, toxic fluid buildup, loss of mobility, swelling, and confusion, Erskine adamantly refused a transplant, based on the reportedly poor qualities of life for patients in the 90s, returning home to wait out his sentence.
On the sixth day, Erskine tried something different.
“I asked for strength to just get out of bed. I just wanted to say thank you for my 33 years of life,” standing up to clap his hands.
The next day, he received a confusing call from the hospital that an organ was available. Despite being non-compliant, Gillespie’s doctor placed him on the transplant list.
After undergoing the fourteen-hour procedure, Gillespie’s life resumed. However, he struggled with digestive issues, falling incredibly ill two years later. Eating incited excruciating pain. Even drinking water became laborious, and his weight rapidly dropped.
Medical professionals explained that his intestines had been traumatized from the procedure and were now shutting down.
“Literally, God spoke to me and told me to get active. I got up one day and went to Overton Park in Midtown, and for the first time, I started to walk, then run a little, and then walk again.”
Erskine’s digestive system began working for the first time in almost two years.
The more Erskine walked and ran, the more he could eat without pain. He began gaining back weight and building muscle and has remained active.
“Now, almost 28 years later, fitness remains a non-negotiable part of my life. I can maintain my health at nearly 61 years old and am doing well.”
Erskine’s current regimen includes some form of daily running, walking, or cycling. He also regularly swims in his backyard pool.
“I always make time to fit in a workout. Sometimes that means waking up at 5:00 a.m. to go to the gym.”
Erskine’s first year competing in the biennial national Transplant Games, for which he served as Memphis’ team captain, won him Bronze in Cycling.
When employed by MSTF, Erskine spent his Sundays speaking at various churches around the area, advocating for people to donate their organs and educating them about transplants. He didn’t look at it as a job but as his life’s mission.
“I have heard many stories of someone hearing me speak at church and became inspired to become an organ donor, so I know that what I went through is my purpose in that it has extended the lives of others.”
Gillespielovingmemphis.com IG: Erskine Gillespie
By Shlomit Ovadia
Photo by Tindall Stephens