Rod Carewgot a second chance at life after a heart and kidney transplant in December. In an unexpected twist,the 18-time MLB All-Star recently learned his heart donor,Konrad Reuland, was also a standout athlete who played several seasons in the NFL.
Of course, organ donations are usually cloaked in anonymity, with both the donor and his/her family and the recipient unaware of the other party. After Carew's Dec. 16 surgery, his wife, Rhonda, told Fox Sports she "desperately"wanted to meet the donor's family.
"Rod hasn’t focused on it, but I have," she said."I think it would be really a neat thing for the donor’s family to have the ability to listen to their son’s heartbeat again."
Yet all the Carews knew is that their heart came from a 29-year-old donor.
Reuland, who died Dec. 12 after suffering a brain aneurysm, donated his organs. His family knew only that his heart and kidney went to a 71-year-old man in Orange County, Calif.
It didn't take long before Reuland's family and friends made the connection between Carew's very public story and the former tight endwho played collegiately atNotre Dame andStanford before playingparts of six seasons with four NFL teams.
Reuland's mother, Mary, told the San Jose Mercury News that family and friends shared those thoughts around the time ofher son's funeral.
Mary Reuland had to know. She worked diligently to get Rhonda Carew's contact numberand called her.
“This is Mary Reuland,” she said. “And I think your husband may have my son’s heart and kidney. Give me a call back.”
Soon, the Carews met the Reuland family. Reuland's parents used a stethoscope to listen to their son's strong heartbeat once again.
"We are so thankful, so grateful, so there aren't adequate words," Rhonda Carew told the couple.
“I just thank him for saving my life and putting a roaring heart inside my body,” Rod Carew said. “We have a long way to go together."
Now, the two families are united in an effort to raise awareness and fundsfor the"Heart of 29" campaign Carew founded to benefit the American Heart Association. The 29, which Carew intended as a reference to his longtime playing number, now coincidentally references Reuland's age when he died.