By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS
LOS ANGELES – Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew received a new heart and kidney Friday, giving him another chance for a healthy, active life.
The 71-year-old Carew underwent the 13-hour operation at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, his wife Rhonda Carew told American Heart Association News. Doctors removed the device that had been keeping his heart functioning for more than a year, then inserted the donated heart. He then also received a new kidney to help with his chances of a full recovery. All doctors involved told the family they were pleased with how it all went.
“We are overwhelmed with emotions right now – joy, relief, excitement and especially gratitude for all the doctors and nurses who have been with us at every step in this journey, and to the donor who made this possible,” Rhonda said. “Rod knows he’s been given another chance at life and we look forward to making the most of it.”
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. In retirement, he’s championed several causes – including the fight against heart disease since becoming a survivor last year. He partnered with the American Heart Association on Heart of 29, a campaign named for the jersey number he wore throughout his 19-year career with the Minnesota Twins and California Angels.
“Our entire organization is thankful for Rod, Rhonda and their family, and our thoughts are with them during his recovery,” said AHA CEO Nancy Brown. “We are inspired by Rod’s devotion to helping others understand the enormity of heart health – even in the midst of his own struggle with this devastating disease. He is a devoted model to enrich and extend lives.”
Carew was fit and had recently passed a physical when he went to play golf the morning of Sept. 20, 2015. After hitting his first tee shot, he suffered a heart attack and hours later went into cardiac arrest. Weeks later, he needed a new heart – but his body was too traumatized. Doctors instead implanted a left ventricular assist device.
The LVAD enabled Carew to devote 2016 to spreading the word about awareness and prevention of heart disease. Then complications arose and doctors recommended a transplant. He moved near the top of the waiting list on Nov. 18, and was upgraded to the top level last Friday. He received word of the donation Wednesday night.
“The Minnesota Twins are ecstatic for Rod, Rhonda and the entire Carew family,” Twins president Dave St. Peter said. “We’re very thankful for the dedicated men and women who’ve assisted the Carews every day through this journey; collectively, their team inspires our team to continue helping others. We also thank Rod’s fans across the globe for all the support they’ve sent his way. We all look forward to Rod continuing the healing process so we can see No. 29 back on the field in 2017.”
This video was created for a November gala in the Twin Cities during which Carew and the Twins were honored.
“I do not think there are enough words to appropriately convey how happy all of us within the Angels family are for both Rod and Rhonda,” Angels chairman Dennis Kuhl said. “Though this journey has been a difficult and challenging one for Rod, I continue to be impressed by the strength and optimism of the two of them.”
Doctors have told Carew that recovery from a transplant is less grueling than what he already experienced with the LVAD procedure.
He’ll be on anti-rejection medicines for the rest of his life, although the risk of that happening decreases over time. The overall survival rate after transplant is about 11 years; it jumps to around 13 years once a patient survives the first year.
Carew needed a new heart because his weakened beyond repair last year.
The type of heart attack he suffered is dubbed the “widow maker” because of its low survival rates. So merely making it to the hospital was considered a success. While undergoing a procedure to open clogged arteries, he went into cardiac arrest. Doctors revived him and finished the procedures.
He improved enough to go home, but was soon hospitalized with extreme heart failure; his heart was too weak to effectively pump blood to the rest of his body. So doctors implanted the LVAD to take over the pumping duties.
Although the LVAD enabled Carew to resume a mostly normal life – and allowed him to joke that he was “a bionic man” – it required daily maintenance of both his body and the equipment. Still, he managed to travel the country boosting awareness of heart disease.
He visited Minnesota’s Target Field, Dodgers Stadium, Angels Stadium, All-Star FanFest, Boston’s Fenway Park and the Baseball Hall of Fame. He also was on the field for the All-Star Game in San Diego for the announcement that the AL batting title was being named in his honor.
Along the way, Carew endured several complications related to his LVAD, occasionally prompting hospitalizations. The most serious came after returning home from the Hall of Fame. During that episode, doctors determined that a new heart was a matter of necessity, not convenience.
Carew thought he was in great shape when his heart went haywire. The realization that heart problems can hit anyone at any time prompted him to reach out to the American Heart Association to use his story to help others avoid the same fate.
His story went out for the first time just before Thanksgiving last year. Within weeks, he notched his first “save” when a fellow former big leaguer, Clyde Wright, went to get his heart checked and learned he needed a quadruple bypass. Wright underwent a successful operation without ever suffering a heart attack – or worse.
Heart of 29 kicked off with an event at TwinsFest in Minneapolis in January. In late February and March, Carew was on the field for Twins spring training. He resumed his usual role of working with hitters, albeit with certain concessions, such as not throwing batting practice.
Those two events were among three goals Carew set for himself in 2016. The third was the annual reunion of Hall of Famers in Cooperstown. While there, Heart of 29 provided health screenings for 41 fellow legends and their families.
As for 2017, Carew has yet to set any goals. However, he’s said before that he hopes to be on the field with the Twins – with his new heart – by spring training, and maybe he’ll even throw some batting practice this time.