Warszawski: Fresno State bye gives QB Carr chance to be Derek the Dad

The Fresno BeeOctober 12, 2013 

In the corner of the living room, next to the leather sofa but closer to the windows, sits a tufted, light beige chaise lounge.

"That's Derek's chair," Heather Carr says with a friendly nod.

In Derek Carr's version of domestic bliss, his 6-foot-3 frame is stretched out upon it. Dallas, Carr's 2-month-old son, sits cradled against his chest. Bruce Wayne, the 1-year-old yellow Labrador that he and Heather adopted, curls below the elevated footrest.

Football is on TV.

When you've gone through what Carr and his family have gone through these past two months, this is how and where you recharge the batteries.

Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter gave the Bulldogs three days off (Friday, Saturday and today) during their bye week. Their senior quarterback planned to spend as much of it in that chair as possible.

"We get three days to relax, sleep in and watch football," Carr says. "That's what I'm going to be doing."

No morning weight lifting. No meetings. No practice. No interviews. A brief respite from the pressures of Fresno State's 5-0 season, the Heisman campaign, all of it.

Three days to take a step back from the non-stop demands of his life as a college football player and get caught up on being Dad.

"Being a Division I quarterback is an all-day job, if you want to be successful at it," he says. "So it's been tough not to be there with him all the time. There are some days when I come home and he looks different, and it's sad to me because they change so fast.

"Or there are times when Heather says, 'He did this today,' and it hurts because I wasn't there to see it. But I hope some day he understands that I'm just trying to give him a nice backyard."

Each day after practice, after he fulfills interview requests from local media to radio hosts from the furthest reaches of the satellite dial, Carr, 22, is in a hurry to get home.

He cleans dishes. He takes out the trash. He bottle feeds. Anything he can do to help his 24-year-old wife, Heather, who has been taking care of Dallas since Carr left early in the morning.

The star quarterback isn't excused from diaper duty, either. But if it's No. 2, Heather typically draws that assignment.

"I changed the first couple poopy diapers, but those started getting kind of gross and I can't handle the smell," Carr says.

Seated nearby and holding Dallas, Heather smiles and answers in a soft voice. She's looking down at the sleeping infant.

"In our house, we're very thankful for that because that means everything goes down," she says. "We were so used to everything just coming back up."

Not so rare condition, uncommon severity

Dallas Mason Carr arrives Aug. 5 at 3:32 in the afternoon at Clovis Community Hospital. He is Derek and Heather's first child and the eighth grandchild of Rodger and Sheryl Carr, Derek's parents. The previous seven were born healthy, without complications.

The first signs that Dallas is having a rockier entrance show themselves late that night, as Heather feeds the baby and Carr kisses them goodbye before heading home for some sleep.

Carr has been around plenty of babies. He's the "favorite uncle" to his nephews and nieces. So the moment he sees the fluorescent green-tinged vomit, he knows something isn't right.

One out of every 500 people in the U.S. is born with intestinal malrotation, a congenital disorder that occurs when the intestines don't form in the correct position during fetal development.

"Part of the small intestine and the large intestine are attached to the back wall of the abdomen," says Dr. Judy Davis, a pediatric gastroenterologist based in Fresno. "If that tacking down doesn't occur in the right spots, they can turn and twist within the abdominal cavity and potentially interrupt blood flow."

But even among those born with intestinal malrotation, only one in 30 develop symptoms. That's why few people have heard of it.

"There's lots and lots of people running around with malrotation who never have a problem," Davis says.

Little Dallas isn't so lucky. Fortunately, nurses and doctors recognize the symptoms quickly and within 45 minutes he is being transferred by ambulance to the neonatal intensive care unit at Children's Hospital Central California.

Doctors there perform two procedures before Dallas is a week old. The second removes a small part of the intestine that became kinked when it twists on itself, causing a blockage.

Dallas spends the first 23 days of his life in the hospital, Heather by his side every moment she is allowed to be there and Carr every chance he can.

The family goal is for the baby to be home in time for the Aug. 29 season opener against Rutgers, and they make it two days ahead of schedule.

For a while, things seem better. But Dallas, 7 pounds, 10.9 ounces at birth, still isn't eating as much as he should. Nor is he gaining weight. So when he starts vomiting milk Sept. 11, two days before the Bulldogs are supposed to depart for Colorado, Mom rushes her baby back to the hospital.

The same doctors who two weeks earlier said the problem was fixed are now recommending exploratory surgery, two words no parents ever want to hear. Grandparents, either.

"It was so scary because we didn't know what they were looking for," Sheryl Carr says. "All we could do is just pray and wait."

It takes four hours for surgeons to clear away scar tissue and stretch out that previously repaired section of Dallas' intestine, allowing digested food to pass.

As Derek Carr and his family anxiously await the results, a few Bulldogs fans approach and ask him to pose for photos. He smiles and jokes with them as if there's nothing wrong at all.

"I wouldn't say it's fake — I'm always a genuine person — but that's a time when I had to act a little because I really wanted to cry," Carr says now.

"I love people so much and I want people to be joyful, that if I'm walking around depressed and sad I don't want anyone to feel bad for me. … Besides, anyone at Children's Hospital is going through something."

That's the sort of stuff that makes teammates shake their heads in admiration.

"He's clearly got strength that's out of this world," says receiver Davante Adams, one of Carr's closest friends on the team. "He did a great thing just staying strong for his wife and family."

Shelter from the storm

The Carr's two-story home, near the end of the street of a gated neighborhood, is owned by Heather's parents. The young couple pays rent.

Heather and her mother, Vicki Neel, a Clovis Unified school teacher, did all the decorating: tasteful and contemporary. Only one room in the house makes you think a football player lives here, and that's the second-floor man cave.

That room is dominated by a giant photograph of Carr vaulting into the end zone against Nebraska his sophomore year. There's a framed white No. 4 Bulldogs jersey, a dented "Play Hard" sign that used to hang in the Duncan Building, a Bakersfield Christian helmet and a bunch of assorted plaques and trophies.

Look closer, and you'll see a Batman bust (a gift from oldest brother David) and a Batman cape. Under the TV sits the ubiquitous video game console. And what's that next to the couch? It's Dallas' tiny swing.

"Dallas loves to sit in his boppy and watch Derek play video games," says Heather, a Fresno native who met Derek while she was a server at BJ's. "It's the cutest thing ever."

Dallas' nursery is across the landing. Hanging from the front door is a carving of a quarterback's torso adorned with a familiar number. ("It just happened to have a 4," Heather says.) The walls of the nursery are adorned with footballs, baseballs and scripture (Jeremiah 29:11) that she hand-painted and stenciled. Blankets hanging over the crib have little footballs on them.

Throughout most of their ordeal, the family managed to keep the baby's condition private. But when it became public, on the day of the Rutgers game, fans and sympathizers began flooding Fresno State with notes of encouragement.

The couple, married since June 2012, says those letters and emails made a world of difference.

"We had so many people reach out to us, people we've never met or never talked to, who told us they were praying for us or that their kids went through the same thing," Carr says. "They'd send us pictures of them now at 8 years old playing sports and riding bikes.

"The support we got from this community, it gets me emotional."

Because Dallas' condition was detected and repaired early, odds are very good that he will make a full recovery.

After a slow start, the youngest Carr is making up for lost time, producing bowel movements and bottle-feeding days before doctors predicted he would be following the third procedure.

"That baby has not spit up or thrown up once since that day," Sheryl Carr says. "It's a miracle."

Doctors now tell the family that Dallas is growing so rapidly that he is well ahead of the expected size for a 2-month-old.

Another football player in the family?

"He has a little bit of Darren in him," Derek Carr says about his middle brother, who played defensive line at Houston. "Hopefully he'll play linebacker because quarterback is too stressful to watch. You get hit a lot."

For all that Dallas has gone through during his short life, he could be excused for crying a lot. Or for being grumpy or fussy.

But that's not the case at all.

Dallas sleeps a lot and last week astonished his proud parents by sleeping through the night. When he does wake up, the dark-haired infant flashes blue eyes that match his mother's.

It isn't long before he is smiling and giggling.

"He thinks I'm hilarious," Carr says. "Whether it's because he thinks I look funny or because I am funny, we don't know yet."

Dad intends to spend his time off finding out. No matter how many hours it takes in that chair.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, marekw@fresnobee.com or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.

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