Thursday, January 8th, 2009...10:41 am

“Friends of 44″ are friends indeed

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If life were a basketball game, Donna Murphy’s liver transplant this summer would be a bigger buzzer-beating victory than the one that gave the University of Louisville a win over the University of Kentucky this week.
But life isn’t a game. ­Murphy’s donated liver meant more than bragging rights. It saved her life.
“I am a miracle,” she said. “I am just so awed that I am here.”

Donna Murphy, photo by David Perry

Donna Murphy, photo by David Perry

Murphy, Kentucky’s first Miss Basketball (in 1976) and a star player throughout her career at Newport High School and at Morehead State University, collapsed last summer in Northern Kentucky with autoimmune hepatitis, a rare form of hepatitis that attacks liver cells. Her liver shut down, and she lapsed quickly into a coma. She was near death when the transplant was performed.
“Although I don’t remember any of it, my family told me the doctors said I had 72 hours to live,” Murphy said Wednesday. “They said I was the sickest person in the hospital, and they decided I need the liver above anyone else.”
Murphy, 50, lay in a coma for several days before her surgery on June 26 at ­University Hospital in Cincinnati and for two days after, awakening on a ­Saturday nearly a week after the episode began.
Now organizers in Newport want to show ­appreciation for their longtime friend and offer her financial support to chip away the significant medical bills that have accumulated.
“Friends of 44,” as the group calls itself, will host the Donna Murphy Reunion Benefit and Scholarship Foundation Event from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Newport Syndicate, 18 East Fifth Street, Newport.
Murphy’s jersey number at MSU was 44. It has been retired.
The celebration “is an effort to educate people on Donna’s condition and how it has impacted her future,” said Jim Cutter, owner of Cutter Construction in Campbell County. Cutter grew up with Murphy and they both played basketball for Newport.
Part of the proceeds will go toward establishing a foundation in Murphy’s name, he said, that would host events or girls’ basketball tournaments throughout the state. Any money raised at the tournaments would go toward mentoring programs and scholarships.
Although Murphy wasn’t completely sold on the idea of a fund-raiser to help her offset her medical bills, she was intrigued with the establishment of a foundation.
Since 1985, Murphy has been a counselor at what is now Bluegrass Community and Technical College. She also teaches freshman orientation classes.
But she never limited herself to the students there.
Murphy was a mentor for at-risk girls at Henry Clay High School for two years, and she recently received a grant to start a program at Lexington Traditional Magnet School.
Called “Girl Power,” the program will target middle school girls for educational classes, self-esteem projects and field trips, Murphy said, adding she will meet with the school principal next week to work out details.
“I want to expose them to some things,” she said. “Get them out of the box. I was surprised to learn some girls don’t get out of Lexington.”

Donna Murphy as coach of Lexington Christian Academy in 2002 — Photo by Janet Worne

Donna Murphy as coach of Lexington Christian Academy in 2002 — Photo by Janet Worne

That doesn’t mean she has left basketball behind.
She has coached at the collegiate and high school levels and had a 41-18 record at Lexington Christian Academy before being fired in 2006.
Murphy has coached the Central Kentucky Angels, a girls’ AAU basketball team, for two years, although she didn’t get to finish the ­season last year. And she gives private lessons.
The foundation will ­allow her to get other female athletes to join with her to mentor young girls throughout the state.
“I want to get a lot of the young ladies who played basketball and who are still around involved with their communities and doing things,” she said. “I want to give them the opportunity to be a part of it.”
And she can do that, now that she has a new liver. Recovery hasn’t been easy, though. She’s had to relearn a lot of things.
After the surgery, she ­retained water because of the toxicity, her body swelling to twice its size or more.
“I had to learn how to walk again, and I couldn’t eat. I was too big,” she said. “I couldn’t hold a fork or lift my arm.”
She sank into despair, not wanting people to help her. “I’d rather do for others,” she said.
Murphy’s mother stepped in and challenged her daughter, demanding she hold her own fork.
“She got me fired up and I said, ‘I’ll show you all.’”
Plus, she learned of the numerous people who had come to see her in the hospital and who had prayed for her, and she knew she had to start fighting.
That’s the spirit she wants to impart to girls in Kentucky. She wants to empower them as she has been empowered.
“God gives you strength you never knew you had,” she said. “I am amazed and awed that I am here. I am a testimony that God is real and miracles do happen.”
She thinks young girls in Kentucky need that inspiration. And through the foundation, she plans to see that they do.
Tickets for the celebration, which will include a silent auction, raffle, door prizes, food and music, are $25. Or donations can be made by sending checks, payable to Donna Murphy’s Reunion Benefit, to Fifth Third Bank, 647 Monmouth Street, Newport, Ky., 41071.
“The key to all of this for myself and for Donna is that we really want to help these children,” Cutter said.

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I talked with Donna Murphy again today about this column. Although she was pleased with the word getting out about the foundation and benefit, she wanted to clarify one point.

“I wasn’t fired,” she said. “The LCA Athletic Director basically told me he was not going to renew my contract. I had no idea that was about to happen. I’m just trying to get this clarified so the truth and the facts can be known. I’ve never been fired from a job or any employment that I have ever had and have a history of being a good, dedicated employee wherever I have worked.

“Regardless, I continue to be blessed by God’s hand. My life goes on.”

— Merlene Davis



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