By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

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Carew in the dugout, ball in hand, at Minnesota’s Target Field. Photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins.

LOS ANGELES – Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew is undergoing a heart and kidney transplant. The surgery began around midnight Pacific time on Friday and is expected to take up to 18 hours.

“Please keep Rod in your prayers,” his family said in a statement released to American Heart Association News.

An update is expected following the operation, which is to play out in several phases: Removal of the device that’s kept him alive since he nearly died following a heart attack and cardiac arrest 15 months ago, then transplanting the new heart and also a new kidney to improve his chances for a strong recovery.

Carew, 71, has been on the transplant waiting list for about a month. He moved near the top last Friday, then on Wednesday night got the call that a donor was found.

He spent Thursday in the hospital as doctors prepared for the complex operation. What could’ve been a tense time wasn’t; he was in very good spirits, realizing his long medical ordeal appeared headed to a happy ending.

“We appreciate your thoughts and prayers for Rod and the medical team,” his wife Rhonda told American Heart Association News on Thursday. “At the same time, our sympathy and appreciation goes to the donor’s family.”

Mike Trout (right) and Kole Calhoun (left) greet Carew. Both are wearing Heart of 29 logos.

Mike Trout (right) and Kole Calhoun (left) greet Carew. Both are wearing Heart of 29 logo patches.

Carew is among the greatest hitters of all-time, a seven-time American League batting champion and first-ballot selection to the Hall of Fame. On Sept. 20, 2015, he suffered the kind of heart attack known as the “widow maker” because of its low survival rates. While undergoing a procedure to open clogged arteries, he went into cardiac arrest.

After improving enough to go home, he was hospitalized again days later and diagnosed with extreme heart failure; his heart was too weak to effectively pump blood to the rest of his body. He could’ve used a transplant then, but doctors feared that his body was too traumatized. So they implanted into his chest a left ventricular assist device, a machine that took over the pumping duties.

As he recovered, he decided to use his story to help others. So he partnered with the American Heart Association on Heart of 29, a campaign to boost awareness and prevention of heart disease. He toured the country this summer spreading the word.

“I am so thrilled for Rod and his family and my entire organization joins the millions of others who are pulling for him and wishing him a speedy recovery,” AHA CEO Nancy Brown said. “We are all inspired by the Carews’ courage, touched deeply by their journey and so grateful for their devotion to helping others prevent heart disease. Rod is an inspiration.”

Added Minnesota Twins president Dave St. Peter: “The Minnesota Twins and millions of baseball fans across the globe continue to be inspired by Rodney Carew. We collectively share our thoughts and prayers with the family of the donor, Rod, Rhonda and the entire Carew family. We are also incredibly grateful for the care and expertise of Rod’s medical team. May God bless Rod Carew.”

Carew speaking to reporters following a news conference at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Carew speaking to reporters following a news conference at the Baseball Hall of Fame.