Saints rookie Austin Carr an inspiration after meeting with transplant recipient

METAIRIE, La. -- Austin Carr laughed and poked fun at himself when he realized he had just done a little celebrity name-dropping about his recent appearance on “Good Morning America.”

But forgive the New Orleans Saints rookie receiver, who suddenly found himself in the national spotlight over the past week after people learned about his remarkable decision to donate his blood stem cells in college to help save a man he had never met who was suffering from lymphoma.

“Meeting him was one of the most special moments of my life. I would say it was one of those moments that I’m going to remember for the rest of my life,” said Carr, who finally got to meet the recipient, Roy Coe, during Super Bowl week in Minneapolis. (Donors and recipients can’t meet for at least a year.)

“I think Michael Strahan said it well on 'Good Morning America.' I mean, winning a Super Bowl would be great. But saving somebody’s life is even better,” said Carr, whose meeting with Coe was lauded through various media outlets and on social media. “To know that he’s going to be able to see his grandchildren and to know how grateful he was too, it’s just something that floors you. I didn’t have any speech ready for him. I just saw him and we embraced, and I met his girlfriend. And we would later go out to eat and just talk. It was just one of the most special moments of my life.”

Carr, who signed with the Saints during Week 1 after being released by the New England Patriots, said he was surprised by how much attention his meeting with Coe has received over the past week.

But that doesn’t mean he is shying away from it.

Carr said that as his career and platform grow, he would love to become “a bigger advocate and a bigger spokesman” for Be The Match, the organization operated by the National Marrow Donor Program that has created a database to match donors with patients in need.

Saints coach Sean Payton and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady both helped to raise awareness earlier this year for Be The Match and the need for more mixed-race donors -- a cause that is near and dear to their agent, Don Yee.

“I imagine one day a hundred percent of NFL players decide to swab their cheek and potentially become a match for somebody,” Carr said. “I mean, how amazing would it be if we as a brotherhood, as a group of men who are heroes and leaders on the field, also just extend that to off the field?

“Guys have great charitable causes, and this is another opportunity for guys to show that it’s not just about what happens on Sunday, but it’s about what happens in the offseason, and it’s about how I care about my community and the people around me that really defines me as a person.”

Carr was basically “redshirted” in 2017, appearing in just one game. But he showed enough potential with both the Patriots and at Northwestern for the Saints to want to invest in him for the future. The 6-foot, 195-pounder set the school record at Northwestern as a senior in 2016 with 1,247 receiving yards and tied the school record with 12 receiving touchdowns on 90 catches.

But decisions that Carr made earlier in his Northwestern career led to last week’s life-changing experience.

He decided to have his cheek swabbed to be added to the database as a freshman, along with about 20 teammates, when the idea was suggested by former Wildcats kicker Jeff Budzien.

Then two years later, Carr got the call that he was a match for a patient in need.

Carr said he didn’t hesitate to say yes -- he just wanted to wait about a month so he could compete in Northwestern’s bowl game. And the timing worked out.

The process was fairly intensive. Carr spent five days on a medication that boosted his marrow production, then about five hours having the stem cells filtered from his blood in a procedure similar to dialysis. A natural side effect from the medication was an enlarged spleen, so Carr had to miss about a month of football activities.

“That was disappointing. But a ruptured spleen is a pretty quick way to die. So they kept me out of collision sports and things for a while,” Carr said. “But that’s not a high price to pay for Roy’s life, so it was definitely worth it.”

It became even more worthwhile last week.

“I finally had a face. I can’t even say a ‘face to a name’ because I didn’t even know his name,” Carr said. “So you have a face to kind of what you’ve been thinking about. The person you’ve been praying for for months on end, I mean, there he is. So in many ways it felt like an answer to a prayer.”