ENCINO (CNS) — Powered by the donated heart of a former pro football player, Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew visited an Encino Little League field Tuesday, April 18, to speak out about the power of organ donation.
Joined by the family of heart donor Konrad Reuland, Carew said he was given a new lease on life after suffering a heart attack in 2015 and spending nearly two years waiting for a donor.
That donor turned out to be the 29-year-old Reuland, an NFL tight end who played for teams including the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens. Reuland died Dec. 12 of a brain aneurysm at UCLA Medical Center, and Carew received Reuland’s heart and kidney a few days later at Cedars-Sinai.
It was weeks later that the Carew and Reuland families realized the connection — believed to be the first case of a pro athlete’s organs being transplanted into another.
“My friend upstairs gave me another opportunity to continue his work, so that’s why I was left behind,” Carew, 71, said Tuesday at the gathering in Encino. “And I've got a great partner in Konrad. He gave me a strong heart.
“You know, every day the doctors came in they would say, ‘Boy he’s roaring today.’”
The connection between the Orange County residents, which occurred completely at random, made international headlines when it was revealed last week.
The happenstance was even more special, given that Carew was a hero of sorts to Reuland when the future football player was a child. When he was 11 years old, Reuland even got to meet Carew when he was attending St. John’s Episcopal School in Rancho Santa Margarita, because Carew’s two children were attending the same school.
“All he talked about for the rest of that day was, ‘I met Rod Carew!’” Reuland’s mother, Mary, said earlier this month.
Sitting next to Carew in Encino, Mary Reuland said she is a woman of faith, and “I know one day I will see my baby
As for her son’s still-beating heart, “It was just a wonderful thing to be able to hear a part of my son still here on Earth.”
Carew, the Reuland family and the American Heart Association are hoping the publicity surrounding the donation will spur others to become donors.
According to the AHA, heart and cardiovascular diseases cause more than 801,000 deaths annually. Yet heart transplants remain relatively rare, with about 2,800 such procedures performed in the United States in 2015, and there is still a long waiting list of people waiting for a donor.