Shortly after Chad Carr was diagnosed with Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) on September 23, 2014, doctors at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital began radiation treatment.
“I’ll never forget seeing the X-ray machine,” said Chad’s “Papa” and former University of Michigan head football coach, Lloyd Carr. “Jason took me up with him. I walked in, and there was this big, big machine. They were putting the barrel to the back of his head, this little guy. That was a tough moment.”
Despite a 9-12 month prognosis and no standard protocol for treatment, Tammi and Jason Carr leaned on their faith and clinical trials to give Chad every chance they could. He underwent a number of treatments, but — nearly 14 months later — Tammi and Jason had to make the difficult decision to put Chad on hospice care.
At about that same time, they chose to have Christmas early.
The Magic of Christmas
On November 13, the entire family gathered at the Carr house to celebrate Christmas Eve. The next morning, Tammi woke him up for a Christmas celebration.
“We all gathered around the tree in the family room,” remembers Coach Carr, “and Tammi sat right beside him on the floor. Her job was to hand him the gifts. So he started opening the gifts and he didn’t want anybody helping him.
“Pretty soon, I noticed that after he had opened a present he was saying something to Tammi. At that point, he was hard to understand because this had impacted his speech. So, I motioned to her, and I said, ‘Tammi, what’s he’s saying?’ And she said, ‘He’s saying “next.”’”
Coach Carr told this story at Chad’s memorial service, recalling the way Chad found joy despite the worst of circumstances.
“That kid, he loved presents and he loved to open them,” he said. “He was going to open every one there without any help. I was so thankful that, even with his condition, he was able to forget the discomfort he was in because he loved opening those presents. Nothing was going to interfere. It was a beautiful thing for me.”
A Christmas Surprise
Christmas magic has dulled without Chad to celebrate. The family has integrated some of their old traditions back into their holiday, but it isn’t the same. Jason and Tammi embrace family and celebrating with sons CJ and Tommy, but it is still a tough time of year to get through.
Then, unexpectedly, Tammi received a Christmas surprise in the form of University of Michigan defensive end Chase Winovich.
“There I was, parked in front of Schembechler Hall in our beloved ‘ChadTough vehicle’ and I hear a tap on my window,” wrote Tammi on Facebook. “I look up to see Chase Winovich! ‘Mrs. Carr! I want to talk to you about ChadTough!’”
Winovich pledged to dye his hair orange for the Outback Bowl if supporters raised at least $15,000 for the foundation. The challenge was posted at 6:30 in the evening December 20, and donations totaled $10,000 within five hours.
By the next morning, the goal was reached.
“The legacy the Carr family has with Michigan really resonated with me and their mission,” said Winovich. “It was just so heartfelt to see this young kid and the struggles he went through. It really pulled on my heartstrings and inspired me to be a better football player and a better person. I always said, if there was any chance I had to give back and help out with that, I would do it.”
More players added to the commitment. Offensive lineman Grant Newsome pledged to dye his hair if the total reached $38,500, half of his jersey No. 77. That number was surpassed December 21. Defensive lineman Mo Hurst committed to dying his hair if the total reached $73,000, his jersey number. That happened on December 22. Then linebacker Devin Bush and honorary team member Larry Prout, Jr. agreed to dye their hair at $100,000 – that was reached in the early hours of Christmas Eve.
Defensive Coordinator Don Brown agreed to dye his legendary mustache orange if the fundraiser reaches $125,000 — the total is steadily increasing.
“These fantastic young men have done this on their own,” wrote Tammi on Facebook. “Chase took the lead and others have now followed….using their tremendous platform for good. My father in law has always preached about the importance of finding a cause greater than yourself and embracing it….These Michigan men are doing just that and we should all be so proud of them.
“They are really helping Chad to change the world….Forever proud to be a Wolverine and I know that Chad is smiling down and saying Go Blue! Merry Christmas and thank you to everyone who is supporting their efforts.”
The Magic of Michigan
For Coach Carr, seeing Michigan athletics — especially the football program — continue to rally around his grandson is incredibly emotional.
“It’s such a wonderful effort by people that have been touched by this kid,” he said. “Chad has inspired and motivated people to try to make sure that someday these kids that are diagnosed will be able to live a good life and not be subject to all the horrible things that go with this disease.”
As this fundraiser continues to grow, it is a testament to the power a platform can have in raising awareness for a disease that truly needs it. DIPG has gone on for decades with nothing being done to combat it.
Now, thanks to a little boy who just happened to come from a family with University of Michigan football lineage, the rally cry for change is getting louder and louder.
“There’s momentum for the first time in a half a century at least,” said Coach Carr. “There’s never been greater optimism that there’s some good things happening through Chad and through all those people who have joined that effort. Chad has inspired and motivated people to try to make sure that someday, kids that are diagnosed will be able to live a good life and not be subject to all the horrible things that go with this disease.
“It’s a really great feeling to know and to believe that — while we don’t know when — the time is going to come where these doctors and these researchers are going to have a breakthrough.”