He might not have seen it coming – he was on a golf course, after all – but when Rod Carew was thrown the nastiest curveball of his life, one of the greatest hitters in the history of Major League Baseball responded with a home run. Now, he’s committed to helping others keep their heart healthy and raising awareness about the importance of organ donation.
Carew was about to tee off at the first hole of a golf course near his home in California in September 2015, when he felt a burning in his chest and his hands became clammy. He was having a heart attack. His left anterior descending artery was fully blocked, which can cause the heart to stop very quickly – earning that type of heart attack the nickname “widowmaker.”
Luckily for Carew, 69 years old at the time, he was at the hole closest to the clubhouse, where he sought help. If he’d been any farther from the clubhouse, he would have died then and there, Carew said during a 2017 interview with HBO’s Real Sports. But he wasn’t going to give up without a fight.
“I hear people say, well, it’s my time to go,” Carew told his interviewer on HBO. “I felt the opposite. I felt I still had work to do.”
No time to waste
Did you know?
In a nearly 20-year career in Major League Baseball, Carew accrued more than 3,000 hits, made the All-Star team 18 times, led the American League in batting average seven times, won the Rookie of the Year award in his first year and won the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 1977.
Carew was saved by the implantation of a left ventricular assist device (LVAD), which helped the badly damaged left side of his heart pump blood. The device wasn’t a permanent fix, but it bought him time to hopefully survive until a new heart could be found for him.
You might forgive someone in Carew’s situation for turning their attention and efforts inward, as they struggle with the ever-present specter of their mortality. But Carew believed he had been given more time for a reason.
“After coming out of surgery, I told my wife, Rhonda, maybe this is my second chance,” Carew said in a July 2016 article sent out to media by the American Heart Association. “We can help people take care of their hearts and maybe save more lives.”
Carew and his wife started the Heart of 29 program, an ode to Crew’s jersey number, so he could form professional partnerships to promote heart health and organ donation. He almost immediately began crisscrossing the nation, making public appearances in the name of patient advocacy.
With his heart beginning to fail again in the fall of 2016, Carew was moved near the top of the transplant list. He received a heart transplant (and kidney transplant) in December 2016.
“I wasn’t afraid of dying – I just wanted to keep living because I think I have a lot of work to do to save lives,” Carew said, in a July 2017 article on heart.org. “I believe that’s why I’m still here. … I just don’t want anyone to go through what I went through.”
For nearly 20 years, Carew traveled the country, trying to get hits and score runs. Now he travels the country trying to save lives.
His dedication to patient advocacy will bring him to Peoria in late August 2019 for Heart of a Champion, an OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute event celebrating baseball and the importance of organ donation. Register ahead of time to be entered to win an autographed baseball bat. Just visit osfhealthcare.org/carew to learn more.
Last Updated: May 26, 2021