Rod Carew spoke to American Heart Association supporters Sunday at the organization's scientific conference in California. (Photo by Kathleen Clark Photography)

Rod Carew spoke to American Heart Association supporters Sunday at the organization’s scientific conference in California. (Photo by Kathleen Clark Photography for American Heart Association News)

LAGUNA NIGUEL, California – A secret to Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew’s success as a hitter was how hard he studied. He kept a notebook detailing every pitch he saw from every pitcher and looked it over before every at-bat.

So Carew appreciates people who go the extra mile to be skilled at their craft. Especially when those people helped him survive heart disease.

Carew has overcome a heart attack so lethal it’s often referred to as the “widow maker,” two episodes of cardiac arrest, a diagnosis of extreme heart failure, the implantation of a device that took over his heart’s pumping for 15 months and, nearly a year ago, a heart transplant.

Early in his journey, Carew partnered with the American Heart Association to promote awareness, prevention and treatment of heart disease. On Sunday, he brought his message to Scientific Sessions, the AHA’s flagship scientific event, speaking to supporters of the groundbreaking research that have led to success stories like his.

“I am happy to be alive. I think that’s the number one thing,” he said. “The treatment that I received from doctors, nurses, everybody I came into contact with was unbelievable – just unbelievable. Thank you, and thank you for all you do to help the American Heart Association. As long as I am on this earth, my wife and I are going to do the same.”

Carew was joined on a panel by his wife, Rhonda, and by Dr. Dan Meyer, the surgeon who implanted the machine that kept Carew alive until his transplant, a left ventricular assist device, or LVAD, and who also has become the family’s trusted friend and adviser. Dr. Gerald Marx, a pediatric cardiologist who connected the Carews and the AHA, moderated the event.

Marx pointed out that since 2005, the American Heart Association has invested nearly $62 million across 418 grants to support research broadly related to transplantation. Meyer added that “a lot of the technology that benefitted the Carews really came from research that the Heart Association has supported.”

Carew often shows off the actual LVAD that was in his chest. He remains amazed that something that big could’ve been hooked up to his heart, and that he never felt it.

Meyer thanked the Carews for publicizing their story in hopes of helping others. Their campaign is called “Heart of 29,” named for the jersey number Carew wore throughout his career. The name now has added meaning because his donor – former NFL player Konrad Reuland – was 29 when he died of a brain aneurysm.

“The future is prevention – never having to get to the point Rod did,” Meyer said. “The work that Rod and Rhonda are doing to get the word out, encouraging people to know their risk factors and to get checked is already helping so many people.”

Carew also talked a little baseball.

“What do you think you’d hit if you played today?” Marx said.

“.285,” Carew said.

“But you had a career average of .328,” Marx said.

“Yeah,” Carew said, “but now I’m 72 years old.”

If you have questions or comments about this story, please email [email protected].