Hayden Hurst last attended the University of South Carolina in 2017, and he has since called Baltimore and now Atlanta home. Despite the physical distance and time away from Columbia, S.C., however, Hurst has not forgotten the community that played such an integral part in his life.
Perhaps that is why the 27-year-old Atlanta Falcons tight end chose to donate $3,000 to Mike Gillespie for his dog, Wilbur, who needed emergency surgery.
"I honestly couldn't believe it," Gillespie said. "Never in my life did I expect something like this, and it really was the nicest thing that anyone has ever done for me and for [my girlfriend] Caroline. Just, in an instant, to drop $3,000. I don't care who you are, you could have all of the money in the world, but $3,000, just to donate that in five seconds, that is a lot of money. We were just so taken aback by the gesture."
Gillespie, who is the sports director at ABC Columbia, adopted the 8-year-old Golden Irish more than four years ago, saving Wilbur from a local five-day kill shelter on his fourth day. He and his girlfriend, Caroline, first noticed Wilbur feeling sick on Saturday evening.
After Wilbur showed no signs of improvement the following morning, the couple decided to take him in to be examined by a veterinarian. The conclusion was made that Wilbur had a blockage in his intestines and could die without surgery. Doing so, however, would be expensive and require Wilbur staying several extra days under the eye of a medical professional after the surgery.
The estimate? $4,000, and that total didn't include what it would cost for Wilbur to stay at the hospital after the surgery.
"I've got three different credit cards, and I was basically shuffling through my wallet being like, 'Here, you can try this one. Oh, no, it didn't work? Well, why don't you put $500 on that.'" Gillespie said. "It was just really stressful, honestly. In every single regard."
At Caroline's recommendation, the couple set up a GoFundMe account for $5,000 to help try to put a dent in the cost of Wilbur's surgery.
Donations quickly began to come in, but they were still $3,000 short on Tuesday morning. That's when Hurst stepped in.
"I woke up to a text from Caroline, and she was like, 'You'll never believe this.' I said, 'What?' She said, 'Hayden Hurst just donated $3,000.' And, I said, 'Is he in any way related to Hayden Hurst who plays for the Falcons, who I used to cover at South Carolina?' Lo and behold, it was Hayden Hurst."
Hurst, whose older sister is a veterinarian and who has two dogs of his own, sympathized with what Gillespie, Caroline and Wilbur were going through. After making the donation, Hurst gave Gillespie a call, explaining that he understands how expensive those operations can be and that he would hope someone would lend a helping hand if he found himself in a similar situation.
To Gillespie, Wilbur means the world. Hurst's simple gesture of kindness, born from his own understanding and compassion, was a lift for Gillespie in a dark and stressful time.
"There's so much going on in our world right now," Gillespie said. "It's obviously been a tough year … it was just very refreshing. It was very refreshing to see the goodness of humanity. I didn't think there could be something on this planet that was as sweet as Wilbur, and Hayden just totally proved me wrong."