WILLIAMSBURG — One thing that John Carpenter wants people to know is that he did nothing heroic. He didn't rush into a burning building and rescue anyone. He didn't perform a life-saving operation.
He says that he's a statistical benefactor, essentially, who performed the kind of gracious, human act that he believes anyone would in his situation.
William and Mary's placekicker recently donated bone marrow that he learned can save a life, or at the very least, provide a chance for a cancer-free life.
"If there's any attention I'm getting," Carpenter said, "I feel it's almost unfair that it's going anywhere near me, because I'm basically just a number here, I'm a pawn in that game, where I was presented with an obvious choice.
"I'm very thankful for the opportunity to be involved in it. But I'm most thankful for the people who gave me the opportunity. I think those are the people who are really out there, if you want to talk about saving lives … All I know is I have a chance to help someone. Those people are out there saving lives. Lives have been saved by those people. Which is just tremendous."
Carpenter has missed the Tribe's last two games as a result of the procedure. He hopes to be able to play Saturday against Elon.
Doctors didn't clear Carpenter to play because of the possibility that he could absorb a blow that could be damaging while his spleen recovers. Most bone marrow donors resume regular activities within a day or two, but contact sports are forbidden for a longer period.
"It's especially frustrating when you're a placekicker," Carpenter said with a chuckle, "because you don't really play a contact sport."
Carpenter's absence has been a small inconvenience for him and the team. His teammates and coaches have supported him and his decision without equivocation.
"That's one of the things I guess I've learned over a period of time," head coach Jimmye Laycock said. "You're so focused on football … sometimes you need to step back and look at the big picture, and when you step back and look at the big picture, what's the difference between kicking a couple field goals and saving somebody's life? Not even close. It's not even an issue."
Carpenter's donation and involvement with the national bone marrow registry is a story replete with William and Mary ties and provided multiple people with the opportunity to pay forward and help others.
It began with the daughter of William and Mary football great Joe Montgomery making a presentation to the Tribe football team last February about the benefits of bone marrow transplants in the treatment of cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.
Madeline Montgomery and her friend and Hampton Roads Academy classmate, Ellie Ferguson, told W&M's players about the ease of registering with the National Marrow Donor Program through an organization called Be The Match.
Joe Montgomery's former W&M teammate and close friend, Russ Brown, contracted leukemia in May 2012. Madeline's godfather, Brown received a bone marrow transplant that October that improved his condition. However, the cancer eventually returned, and he passed away in August.
Madeline Montgomery and Ferguson signed up 50 football players and almost two dozen more students.
"Russ's passing certainly brought everybody down," Joe Montgomery said, "but if something good can come of it, then it's not for nothing."
The national registry aims to increase its participants in order to boost the chances of finding a match, in the event that a family member's bone marrow isn't compatible for treatment. Registration involves simple cheek swabs sent to the headquarters for analysis, and contact information. Even if someone is found to be a match, participation is voluntary.
Carpenter learned in August that he was a potential match for a cancer patient. He was the only Tribe football player contacted. According to Be The Match, only 1 in more than 500 ever get called.
After physicals and blood tests, doctors determined that Carpenter was the closest match. He was given a series of injections over several days to boost his blood and marrow output.
Doctors didn't remove his bone marrow directly. He said that in his case, stem cells were needed. He was transfused for approximately four hours, he said. Blood was removed from one arm and spun to separate the cells, then replaced through the other arm.
Carpenter said that he experienced some stiffness and soreness for a few days afterward, but has felt fine since. He slept more than usual as his body recovered.
Carpenter's involvement with the bone marrow registry dovetails with his idea of service. A philosophy and religious studies major, he said that teammates needled him that, of course he would be a match for someone.
"I'm thinking about ethics and how to live my life all the time," he said. "I feel like that's what I'm studying in college. How people live life and how I can best live mine.
"That really helped going into this, because the choice presented itself. The choice made itself for me. I firmly believe that for most people, that that's how it would go. … I firmly believe the choice kind of makes itself, once you realize what you can do."
Carpenter likes to think of his donation as a tribute to his mother, Judith, and her father, Christopher Spooner. He refers to his mom as the most selfless person he knows and says that his grandfather, who passed away while he was in high school in Cumberland, Md., was a huge role model.
"I've said a couple times," Carpenter said, "it's almost selfish at first because you feel all self-congratulatory, like I'm doing this awesome thing, and then you remember that it's got nothing to do with you. The choice is presented to you and it's an obvious choice.
"At first, you're really grateful that you can do it, but it's more thankful that you can do it. And you're thankful to the doctors and nurses and the people who got you on the registry, specifically. Because it's really them that got me into this. They're the only reason that the person I'm donating to has a chance. So it's really cool. I'm really grateful that I could be a part of it."
Fairbank can be reached by phone at 757-247-4637.