A new person joins the organ transplant waiting list every 10 minutes, and at least 22 people die each day waiting for a transplant, according to the federal Organdonor.gov website. One person who has had the good fortune to receive such a transplant is using his life extension to educate and encourage potential donors.
Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew earlier this month made his first trip back to Minnesota since a heart and kidney transplant last December. He threw out the first pitch at the July 3 Minnesota Twins-Los Angeles Angels game in recognition of his 1977 MVP season and his 1967 American League Rookie of the Year season.
He suffered a massive heart attack in September 2015 and was put on the heart transplant waiting list. A new heart was found after former pro football player Konrad Reuland died at age 28 after a brain aneurysm on December 12, 2016. Carew underwent surgery four days later on December 16.
“I’m moving slower,” Carew told reporters at an earlier press conference at the Twins’ ballpark that included the MSR. “Things are coming along good. I’m also trying to push myself to make sure I get my work in,” referring to his cardio rehabilitation sessions.
“I carry him with me inside me every day so he can help me go out and save some lives,” declared Carew of Reuland. “I met Konrad when he was about 11 years old at a basketball game. What goes around comes back — I haven’t seen that kid for a long time. He passed away so I can live.”
According to Organdonor.gov, Blacks have higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure than Whites, which increase the risk of organ failure: 25 percent of Blacks on organ waiting lists need a new heart, and 34 percent are waiting for a new kidney.
Asked for his advice to our primarily Black audience about the importance of organ donations, Carew pointed out that too many Blacks don’t understand organ donations. “That’s a very important statement, because when Michelle [his late daughter who died in 1996 of leukemia at age 18] was in the hospital and she was trying to find a [bone marrow] match to keep her living, the toughest times I felt I went through were when I went into the African American community or the Hispanic community to talk to people about donating.
“To them it was a myth… Something is going to be taken away from them. The government would take it away and never give it back.
“You give [bone] marrow, then in two weeks it grows back,” continued Carew. Some believe that the procedure will leave the donor “in a lot of pain for a long time. I got into a lot of arguments with African Americans and friends about it.”
Since the surgery, Carew and his wife Rhonda have been out and about for more support for organ donations. With the support of the Twins, they started the Heart of 29 campaign in conjunction with the American Heart Association.
“Now I am going out…to give someone the chance to live. Give someone the chance to go on living and doing the things they love to do. And [the] understanding that the greatest gift you can give is to live,” said Carew.
“It’s been a blessing. I hope that the African American and Hispanic communities understand that what they are doing is helping someone else. It is very important.”
Individuals can either sign up online (www.organdonor.gov) or in person at a local motor vehicles department. The site estimates that 119,000 men, women and children are on the national organ transplant waiting list.
August 1-7 is National Minority Donor Awareness Week to educate and encourage more people to register as donors as well as take better care of their health.
“We have to understand that we’ve got to take care of our own body,” Carew told the MSR after the press conference. “We have to forget about the excuses and realize that God will lead us in the right direction.”
The Hall of Famer says he is doing all he can do with his new lease on life: “[God] wants me to do this. He wants me to go out and share with people…hoping that they will listen and understand and do the right thing.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.