McCoy adopts ‘assistant coach’ mentality while battling rare kidney disease

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McCoy adopts ‘assistant coach’ mentality while battling rare kidney disease

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

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As most of her basketball teammates go home or start working on homework, junior Tori McCoy has a much different routine.

McCoy spends every Monday, Wednesday and Friday evening at 210-minute dialysis sessions as she battles Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis.

“It takes a toll on you,” McCoy said. “My day is completely gone. … I really don’t like it at all, especially because I usually don’t come off feeling well.”

FSGS is a rare kidney disease that attacks the glomeruli in the kidney. A glomerulus is the part of the kidney that filters toxins and wastes through the blood vessels.

McCoy had 80 percent damage in both kidneys when she went to Aurora Sinai Medical Center last November with “extreme fatigue.” She has been looking for a kidney transplant since July.

“One never knows,” head coach Carolyn Kieger said. “You don’t want to look in the past. You don’t want to look in the future. You are just taking it one day at a time. … It’s a really hard thing to do when the future is unknown.”

Coping with the disease has been an incredibly difficult process for McCoy. 

“It’s been a struggle. It’s been really bad,” McCoy said. “I’ve tried to manage it a little bit, but it’s kind of hard to keep up.”

When she finishes dialysis at about 7 p.m., another challenge begins: preparing for her 18-credit class schedule as a communications studies major.

“It’s extremely stressful,” McCoy said. “I try to not make my schedule that hectic, but if I’m not doing anything else, I’d rather just get the school stuff out of the way.”

She had the option to leave the university for a semester, but McCoy preferred to remain with the team, attending class and practice as much as possible.

“She knew this was the best to stay in a stable environment, and she chose the hard (option to stay). She’s been in grind mode for a while,” Kieger said. “I give a lot of credit to her, and I give a lot of credit to my staff.”

Kieger has never had a player go through a situation like this at Marquette, but she said she’s trying to put herself in McCoy’s position.

“Coach Kieger has been an amazing coach,” McCoy said. “She doesn’t know what I’m going through, but she’s trying to put herself in my shoes. She’s trying to feel what I feel. I think that’s extremely important.”

McCoy said the entire team has been helpful in her fight with FSGS.

“They’ve been there every step of the way,” McCoy said. “Every single player has been there. They have made it a lot easier for me.”

Senior guard Natisha Hiedeman, McCoy’s roommate, has been particularly helpful for McCoy.

“(Hiedeman) is just a salt-of-the-earth type of kid,” Kieger said. “She’s a giver. She’s a great resource for (McCoy) when she’s down. She’s someone that can put a smile on her face … (Hiedeman) has a great heart, and it shows.”

Kieger said McCoy has functioned almost like another coach in practices. While she’s not yet cleared to be a full participant in practice, she works several drills with her team.

“She’s in a really good spot right now mentally,” Kieger said. “She’s being like an assistant coach. Some days, she’s working with the posts. Some days, she’s being a neutral passer unguarded.”

She has also been working out individually with strength and conditioning coach Maggie Smith.

Outside of the limited reps in practice, Kieger said the focus is primarily on keeping McCoy as strong and healthy as possible until she receives a transplant.

“Right now we’re not really focusing on anything other than ‘let’s get her a transplant,’” Kieger said. “Let’s get her body healthy. Let’s get her in a great, strong state, so when the call does come, she’s ready to go.”

But McCoy can’t help but think about what it will be like to wear blue and gold beyond a practice jersey.

“I’m pretty determined to try to come back this year,” McCoy said. “Basketball is my life, so not being around it and not being able to play is really hard.”

And in the meantime, she said she’s enjoying being around the sport she loves in a limited capacity as she waits for a transplant donor.

“It puts a smile on her face, my face and everyone around her,” Kieger said. “Her energy is lifted when she’s involved in basketball.”

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