Fambrough: Veteran coach Spillman dealing with difficult health issues

LHSAA considers dividing schools between select, nonselect for playoffs

By Robin Fambrough

Advocate sportswriter

After 17 years as a teacher and coach, Brian Spillman was forced to come to grips with a life-altering reality.

“When you’re a teacher, you go into the classroom with a lesson plan,” Spillman said. “And when you coach, you always go out there with a game plan.

“Well, there’s no game plan for this. I had to realize that, for once, I’m not in control.”

Spillman has the life’s work of a journeyman coach. Between 1996 and 2011, his career included stops at Catholic-Pointe Coupee, Christian Life Academy, Belaire, Silliman Institute, Amite School Center, East Iberville, Baker and Parkview Baptist. He was a head football coach at EIHS for two years and Silliman for one.

Now the 39-year-old Spillman makes biweekly and sometimes weekly journeys to Ochsner Hospital and doctors in New Orleans for treatment and tests that will allow him to be placed on a heart transplant list.

A diagnosed diabetic since age 8, Spillman already knew plenty about health-related hardships. His older brother Tommy, who served two years as Baker’s head coach, died in April 2012 following a brief battle for pancreatic cancer.

Spillman’s heart-related struggles began in August 2011 when he was still teaching in Baker and then working as a nonfaculty defensive backs coach across town at Parkview. Spillman started having chest pains and shortness of breath. Blockages in numerous small arteries surrounding his heart were found.

Doctors advised Spillman to quit coaching, and he did. He also had to retire from teaching. Two surgeries performed to insert stints did not provide a solution. His daily regimen includes 20 or more pills.

Spillman’s physicians in Zachary referred him to Ochsner in early 2012. Then, a little less than three months ago, after exploring numerous options, Spillman and his wife, Amy, were told a heart transplant was his lone alternative.

“I’m Mr. Mom now,” Spillman said. “I make sure our two sons get to and from school.

“I won’t lie to you … it gets frustrating. And the thing that’s hardest on me is watching my wife and sons go through this.”

Spillman’s sons Slade (15) and T.J. (10) attend school in Zachary. He said he is thankful for a support staff that includes relatives and friends, including a number of coaches and their wives.

And while health insurance covers many costs, the family has started fundraising on the advice of doctors who say a transplant will likely cost in the neighborhood of $2 million.

Already scheduled are a benefit concert by John Tibbs at 7 p.m. Jan. 28 at Zachary’s Fellowship Church. Also set is a blood drive and jambalaya sale from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 10 at Fellowship Church.

In addition, red silicone bracelets saying “A Heart for Coach Spillman” are available and will be sold at both events.

Spillman said some days are better than others, but credits his family and faith for helping him remain positive.

“I just take every day as it comes,” Spillman said.