At the age of 54 Autry Beamon’s life was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with a primary immunodeficiency. While Autry, a standout NFL defensive back in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, was shocked to learn he had Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID), it turned out to be the missing piece of the puzzle that solved his lifelong medical mystery.
“Throughout my life, I always seemed to get sick easily,” said Autry. “As a kid, I had the measles three times. I can remember playing a football game in college and feeling great and then going to the hospital after the game and being very ill. I always knew something was wrong, but I never knew exactly what it was.”
Autry was always an incredible athlete growing up. At the age of 16, he was offered an athletic scholarship to play football at Texas A&M University-Commerce (formerly East Texas State University). Throughout his four years playing NCAA football, Autry earned All-American honors all four years and was inducted into his college’s athletic hall of fame. Autry was also inducted into the Lone Star Conference hall of fame and to the Texas Black Sports Legends hall of fame.
In 1975, Autry graduated from Texas A&M Commerce with a BBA degree and was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. In 1976, Autry played in Super Bowl XI against the Oakland Raiders. In 1977 he was traded to the Seattle Seahawks where he played from 1977 to 1979 and was a co-captain of the team. Autry played with the Cleveland Browns in 1980 & 1981 and retired in 1982 after seven amazing years in the NFL as a defensive back. He went on to become a successful sales executive in the oil/gas and cement industry. While many would think Autry was living the American dream, he was still with dealing with nagging health problems and frequent illnesses.
In 2007, Autry was being examined by a physician to see if he might be a potential kidney donor for his brother-in-law who was desperately seeking a match. During the battery of tests, the medical team was having trouble determining Autry’s blood type and he was referred to an immunologist.
He was ultimately diagnosed with CVID. The immunologist recommended Autry start on monthly infusions of plasma-based medicine. But like so many others, Autry’s journey with PI had a few unexpected twists and turns.
“Here I was, this big, tough football player, but I couldn’t imagine sticking a needle into my own stomach to do these infusions,” said Autry. “I couldn’t bear to do it and shied away from the treatment I was prescribed.”
Three years later, in 2010, Autry was getting ready for work when he had a grand mal seizure and collapsed in his home. His wife immediately called an ambulance, and he was rushed to the hospital. After the seizure, he was in and out of various hospitals and was diagnosed with a severe infection on the right side of his brain. The infection nearly cost him his life. His road to recovery was slow, and he was not able to work for eight months and could not drive for 10 months.
Autry’s health finally began to improve when he started getting the monthly infusions of Hizentra IG that he needed to bolster his immune system.
“I am now a true believer in the power of infusion therapy,” said Autry. “Without it, my life would have never gotten back on track. Because of my medication, I no longer am the person who is always sick. I can finally enjoy my life to the fullest.”
The lifesaving therapies Autry relies on would not exist without plasma donors. When warned about the looming source plasma shortage exacerbated by COVID-19, Autry became increasingly concerned. Knowing the true power of a plasma donation firsthand, Autry reached out to his contacts all over the country in an effort to encourage plasma donations.
“As a football player, I thought I was invincible,” said Autry. “I now know I am not, and without my infusions made from plasma, I would not be here today. People idolize the NFL players they see on the field on Sundays during football season, but to me, plasma donors are the true heroes. They save lives. They saved my life!”