After health scare, Carew living life to fullest

June 9th, 2017

ANAHEIM -- Hall of Famer Rod Carew believes he's a walking, talking miracle. When he had a heart attack on a golf course near his Orange County, Calif., home on Sept. 20, 2015, he went down for the count three times.

Carew was on the edge of death three times, only to be revived by paramedics, he recalled emotionally last week while visiting Angel Stadium to see the Twins play the Angels. The .328 lifetime left-handed hitter played for both teams in his 19-year career, but he is most identified for winning seven American League batting titles in his 12 years with Minnesota.

Carew has since been the fortunate recipient of heart and kidney transplants, donated by a former NFL player who died Dec. 12, two weeks after suffering a brain aneurysm, leading immediately to Carew's surgery. But the moments after the heart attack that day are indelibly etched in his memory.

"Man, it hit me like a ton of rocks," Carew said. "One minute, I swung the club. The next minute, I was on the [golf] cart. The next minute, I'm in the locker room. The next minute, the paramedics are ready to zap me, because I had flat-lined. It happened again when we were in the ambulance heading to the hospital, the other when we were on our way to the operating room.

"The first one, I saw. I saw the guy with the paddles, and he's yelling to his buddies to hurry up. 'Hurry up, we're losing him.' And then I was gone."

The harrowing incident might have been prevented, said Carew, who, at 71, has dedicated the rest of his life to helping others avoid the pain, suffering and near-death he experienced. His foundation is called "Heart 29," in honor of the number he wore throughout his Major League career.

Carew believes that God kept him on earth to deliver a message.

"Now my job is to let people know this is nothing to mess with, because it hurts," Carew said. "You might go along thinking you're OK, and you're not. They lost me three times, and they brought me back. I had bleeding in my brain and had brain surgery, too. I tell you, I pray a lot now."

Carew strongly insists he's a case study for going about it the wrong way.

"I had checkups and stuff, but not the right checkups," he said. "And I had medication that I was taking, but after two weeks, I put it up in the medicine cabinet and said, 'Ah, I don't want to take it anymore.' At the end, if I had gone back to see my doctor, he would have been able to tell I had a bad problem."

Instead, Carew went into a world of pain. The last time we met was months before the surgery, last July during induction ceremonies at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Carew was elected his first year by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America in 1991 with 90.5 percent of the vote. His name appeared on 401 of the 443 ballots.

Carew appeared frail and lifted his pullover shirt to reveal a white vest attached to a device that helped the heart pump. The pump was installed during emergency surgery the day of the initial attack as well as a left ventricle assist device to aid the beating of his heart.

Later that year, Carew said he was going to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles to prep for the eventual transplant. He knew he couldn't survive long-term just on the pump.

Carew said he was scared, and we talked about two of his fellow Hall of Famers and close friends who had died young: Kirby Puckett, another former Twins great, the victim of a stroke at age 45 in 2006, and Padres great Tony Gwynn. The eight-time National League batting champ passed three years ago from the complications of salivary gland cancer. Gwynn was 54.

Carew was a mentor to Gwynn, who was drafted by the Padres in 1981 and met Carew attending his first Spring Training camp before the '82 season. At that point, Carew, at 36, was with the Angels and embarking on his 16th season.

Carew spent a decade as a hitting coach with the Angels and Brewers, and he continued to talk to Gwynn about hitting.

Gwynn's death deeply saddened Carew. He attended Gwynn's funeral in San Diego, along with fellow Hall of Famers Dave Winfield, Ozzie Smith and Cal Ripken Jr., who was inducted into the Hall along with Gwynn in 2007.

"Tony was a great man, a huge, huge loss," Carew said last summer.

And then, Carew was faced with his own mortality. Because of his precarious condition, Carew was moved to the top of the transplant list on Dec. 9 -- three days prior to the death of former Ravens tight end Konrad Reuland, who blessed Carew as an anonymous donor.

As it turned it out, Reuland also hailed from Southern California, and he had met Carew as an 11-year-old. Reuland was 29 when he died.

As Reuland was being buried, Carew survived 13 hours of surgery. Reuland's mother and father eventually put the dots together and the families connected.

"We speak to them all the time," Carew said. "We go to the cemetery, stuff like that. They're a good family -- a really good family. I've got another family now. I was really lucky to get such a nice family as my next family."

Carew feels like he's starting all over. He's in physical therapy, looks good and has a new lease on life.

Carew laughed when asked if he has swung a bat.

"Not yet," he said. "I've got to swing the golf club first."