For Pete's Sake

Rod Carew’s life-saving heart, kidney transplant came from former NFL player

At left, in a Jan. 30, 2016 file photo, is Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew. At right, in a Sept. 3, 2015 file photo, is former Baltimore Ravens tight end Konrad Reuland.
At left, in a Jan. 30, 2016 file photo, is Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew. At right, in a Sept. 3, 2015 file photo, is former Baltimore Ravens tight end Konrad Reuland. The Associated Press

They were two sports stories of national significance that seemed to be at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.

Former NFL tight end Konrad Reuland died last Dec. 12 at the age of 29 following a ruptured brain aneurysm. It’s always sad to hear of someone who dies at such a young age.

Four days later came news that Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew had a successful heart and kidney transplant. That was wonderful news.

We learned Friday that the two stories were connected.

Carew had received the heart and kidney from Reuland, but it wasn’t planned. Reuland was an organ donor and it turned out that his anonymous donation when to an anonymous recipient, who happened to be Carew.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, that after the death, Reuland’s “family knew only that Konrad’s kidney went to a Southern California woman in her 60s, his liver went to a male in his 50s and, most notably, his heart and other kidney went to a 71-year-old man in south Orange County.

“By the time of the funeral, friends who had read about Rod Carew’s recent heart transplant in Los Angeles were putting two and two together. They pulled (Reuland’s mother) Mary aside and asked if it was possible: Do you think Konrad saved Carew? Did the heart of an NFL player wind up in the chest of a baseball Hall of Famer?”

As it turns out, yes. Mary later got confirmation, contacted Carew’s wife and the families met.

“Thank you,” Carew said, per the American Association News. “I will take care of this heart. Because I’ve been given a second chance. God knows how I feel and what I’m going to do for Him.”

There are even more amazing aspects to the tale. The Heart Association story notes that when he was about 11 years old, Reuland had met Carew at school and gushed about it the rest of the day.

Carew wore No. 29 during his playing days with the Twins and Angels, and a Los Angeles Times story says that Carew started a “Heart of 29” campaign to increase awareness about heart disease.

As noted, Reuland was 29 when he died.

The Times story said that in the hours before Reuland was declared brain dead, his mother put her head on his chest and listened to his heart beat for hours.

The three stories all note that Mary Reuland later used a stethoscope to listen to her son’s heart beating in Carew’s chest.

“I told them when they came here, and I strongly believe this, that they are now a part of our family,” Mary Reuland told the Los Angeles Times. “My son’s heart is beating in your chest. You are a part of our family, and you will be invited to family functions whether you want to come or not.”

Pete Grathoff: 816-234-4330, @pgrathoff

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