Jack Billings didn’t want this story to be about him.
The former Brockville Braves captain, who was known for his self-less play in his three years with the local hockey team, wanted to put the spotlight on the people helping him.
He didn’t want to go too much into detail about the journey he’ll be going through over the coming months.
Instead, he mostly wanted to talk about the people who are helping him and his family make it through that journey.
Family comes first for Billings, he said.
In the last few days the 23-year-old Illinois native found out he still has a pretty big clan back in Brockville.
Although Billings wants to focus on the people assisting him, you can’t fully show how big their support is without going through his family’s story.
Billings’ brother, Michael, 27, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in late September. Within a week of the diagnosis, Michael and his mother were relocated from the University of Chicago Hospital to the Seattle Children’s Hospital where Michael will receive chemotherapy treatment.
After chemotherapy, Michael needs a bone marrow transplant. Billings found out last week he is a match to be a donor for his brother. Surgery is expected to take place in December.
When Billings found out he could help is brother – who was diagnosed when he was a child with a rare congenital disorder called Shwachman/Diamond Syndrome that affects every organ in the body – there was no doubt that’s what he was going to do.
Billings described Michael as his hero. He’s the one who got Billings involved in hockey. The younger Billings just wanted to play because his older brother did.
“He’s an amazing kid. He never complains, he puts his head down and he does his work and he never does anything wrong,” said Billings. “To see him go through this is very hard, but I have so much belief in him because he’s beaten so many other battles and he just continues to fight. He can’t wait to get back onto the ice.”
Three years removed from playing for the Braves, Billings still keeps in touch with some of his Brockville ties. He’s regularly in contact with his former billets, the Bologna family. Kim Bologna played a big part in helping Billings set up a GoFundMe page on Monday.
When Bologna heard about Michael’s situation, “She contacted me right away and she was willing to do whatever to help,” said Billings.
“It’s usually not like me to ask for help, but I feel like when it comes to my family and my brother I’m willing to do anything and (Kim Bologna) was willing to help, so I took advantage of it,” Billings added.
Money raised through the online fundraising campaign is going towards replacing lost income by Billings’ mother, who is staying in Seattle for at least six months to be with Michael, as well as her living expenses there. Funds will also go to the cost of flights for Billings flying from Niagara, where he goes to school, and Seattle and travel expenses for his sister to see their brother.
To go to the GoFundMe pgae, go to https://www.gofundme.com/billings-family-gfm-page?fbclid=IwAR3UNevkNYAeqGsF_1jAAF_f32_odBxDrN8caVl9B6ja7BkrJUSBFvX48BI.
Billings set a goal of $10,000 for the GoFundMe campaign. He came close to reaching that mark in one day. His campaign has brought in about $25,000 in five days.
The people that donated somewhat shocked Billings. There are enough former Braves players on the donation list – and at least one former player who never even played with him – they could fill a few CCHL rosters. Some of the donations came from people who have strong connections to the team like former owner Krista Gill and longtime billet Kathy MacDonald, while some people who sent in money are locals but have no real connection to the team.
The Braves collected money throughout Friday’s game at the Memorial Centre with the funds going towards Billings and his family.
“It’s been three years since I’ve been a Brockville Brave and yet people still remember, still care, and are still willing to help me,” said Billings. “I really want to take advantage with this interview to really make sure all the people in Brockville and the Braves community know how much we appreciate everything they’re doing for my family and my brother. It means the world to us.”
It hasn’t all been monetary help that Billings has appreciated. Despite leaving the school after last year, old teammates from Salve Regina University have been checking in with Billings on a daily basis and he’s appreciated the support.
Billings transferred to Niagara University this year – where his roommate is former Braves teammate Sean King, who was his roommate in Brockville – and he is being red-shirted this year. Billings said he sees that as a sign from God. The one season he’s not playing hockey is the year when he has more time to spend with his family and help his brother.
For now, though, he just wants to talk about the people helping him.