Curl forced to play waiting game
The last time former head women’s basketball coach Joe Curl was on a plane, he should have died.
The Cougars were headed to face off against Texas Tech, but when the plane landed, Curl was rushed to the hospital. His heart had stopped pumping properly during the flight and caused him to gain nearly 30 pounds in excess fluid.
Doctors told him he would never be able to fly again, and at the end of the season, Curl told UH he wouldn’t be coaching again.Curl coached the team for 12 seasons, compiled a 193-167 record and become the longest tenured and most successful coach in the program’s history.
In 1998, Curl led the Cougars to the most wins in school history with 28 wins, championships in the Conference USA game and tournament and an appearance in the NCAA tournament. After the record-breaking season, Curl was named C-USA Coach of the Year and received National Coach of the Year honors from the Associated Press, United States Basketball Writers Association, ESPN.com and The Basketball Times.
Now, Curl sits on his couch with an IV in his arm reading the newspaper cover to cover, listening to UH basketball games and waiting for a new heart.
“It has been five years since my heart attack, and I have forgotten what it is like to feel good,” Curl said. Curl has end-stage heart disease, causing his heart to function at about 15 percent. Curl’s parents and all but one of his five siblings have died from the same disease. After a recent stint in the hospital, Curl was given 1B status, the second-highest status on the heart transplant list.
Curl says he misses the interaction with the students and coaching, but he’s glad to be out of the game for now.
“The last two or three years of coaching was just overwhelming and exhausting. It would wipe me out so much walking down the hallway from the locker room and onto the court that I almost couldn’t coach the two hours,” Curl said. “I felt like I wasn’t doing justice to the team.”
But the worst part about no longer being a coach for Curl is the inactivity. Before the heart attack, Curl was passionate about three things: coaching, landscaping and most of all, cooking. For 13 years, Curl would bring his custom-made, over-sized grill to tailgates and cook for anyone.
After Hurricane Katrina, Curl broke out his grill, and for 10 days, fed people who were displaced. Then, drove to Splendora, Texas with a friend for five days to cook for families without power.
Marvin Coleman, a long-time UH women’s basketball fan and Curl’s friend, says Curl was always helping people and cared tremendously about not only his athletes, but all students.
“Joe is the best coach the women’s team has ever had, but he is also a marvelous person. He’s big-hearted, and I don’t mean that as a pun,” Coleman said. “We just keep praying that something will come through for him. If it doesn’t, he won’t live, and he knows that. He is weak right now, but he’s a strong fighter. I don’t think the average person would have lived as long.”
Curl is currently on 22 prescriptions, an amount that is sure to only increase if he were to receive a new heart. The cost of the medical procedures, prescriptions and the potential heart transplant has depleted the Curl family’s savings and forced them to sell their home.
“We have had as a family conversations with the doctors on whether or not to proceed with this at all because of the finances,” Curl said. “We have seriously considered just letting it run its course. But I want to live for my family. I want to see my daughters continue to grow and raise families and be with my wife. But it is really hard ’cause sometimes you feel like you are in the way.”
Even through all of this, Curl’s daughter Angela and his wife, Lesa, look forward to the day their family receives a call letting them know that there’s a heart. However, Curl recognizes the other side to this good news, and his generosity overwhelms his own needs.
“I don’t know how I would feel about receiving a heart. I think my youngest daughter said it the best, ‘You hate to have something good to happen to you at the expense of someone else,’ and that is always first and foremost in my mind. I don’t wish that on anybody,” Curl said. “If I could save somebody else the pain of losing somebody, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
Ways to donate this is from the family:
Checks, along with a form can be found on joecurlhearttransplant.com, and can be mailed to:
Wells Fargo Bank
1600 Highway 146
Seabrook, Texas 77586
Donations can also be made by taking the printable form to any Wells Fargo location. Donations also can be made to the National Heart Transplant Foundation
For more information, visit joecurlhearttransplant.com