University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill wide receiver Austin Proehl was lauded for his dedication to patients on the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit.

Austin Proehl visited Toriano Cook in the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit Thursday.
Austin Proehl reunited with Jamie and Kaitlen Poe.

Hospital staff gathered on Thursday to honor senior Austin Proehl, a wide receiver for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill football team, for his devotion to patients in the UNC Hospitals’ Bone Marrow Transplant unit.

Kelly Kivette, LRT/CTRS senior recreational therapist at N.C. Cancer Hospital, said Austin stood out for his commitment to visiting patients on the unit since his freshman year at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Having someone who’s connected with the UNC system, especially an athlete, to come and give words of support, encouragement, means so much for patients when they are going through this,” Kivette said. “Austin goes above and beyond, and has made lifelong connections with the people he has met. We wanted to say thank you to him for his devotion and dedication to our patients.”

Surrounded by his mom and dad, Ricky and Kelly Proehl, extended family members and supporters, hospital staff surprised Austin with a signed, framed picture. Austin’s father said he and wife have involved their children in service opportunities since they were young.

“We’re always trying to give back the best way we can,” Ricky said. “It rubs off on your kids.”

Austin also visited a fellow Tar Heel, Toriano Cook, who was scheduled to receive a bone marrow transplant on Thursday. Toriano has battled Hodgkin lymphoma since 2003, and is now receiving a transplant after the disease recurred. His brother Keeshan was slated to be his donor. He was in the hospital with his brother and his mother, Dorothy Cook Haith.

Toriano attended Carolina, and was a member of the Marching Tar Heels. He traveled with the football team for bowl games. He said he’s worked a foreign language teacher in China, and it has been a long time since he’s returned to Chapel Hill.

“It’s cool; it’s nice,” Toriano said of Austin’s visit. He told Austin he’d be watching Saturday’s game.

Also there to surprise Austin on Thursday were Jamie Poe and her daughter, Kaitlen. Austin formed a bond with Jamie’s husband, Joel Poe, when Joel was hospitalized to receive a bone marrow transplant as treatment for multiple myeloma. He died in October 2016.

Austin said he just hit it off with Joel, who was an avid Carolina sports fan. He came to walk laps around the unit with Joel, and also talked with his family. Jamie said those visits met a lot to her husband.

“When they’d be watching the game, he would always get excited, and say ‘there’s my boy,’” she said.

And while Joel remained upbeat and positive throughout treatment, but his daughter Kaitlen said visits from Austin were a highlight during the dark times.

“When Austin would come, it would lighten up the room, and lighten up the mood,” Kaitlen said. “It was nice for me, mom and Kristen to see the excitement on dad’s face because there wasn’t a lot to get excited about there for awhile.”

Knowing Joel was pulling for him meant a lot to Austin, too.

“He had a huge impact on me; as much as I had an impact on him,” he said. “It really helped me out.”

Watch the video below to learn more about Austin Proehl: