Konrad Reuland had no idea when he met California Angels legend Rod Carew at age 11 that he would one day save the former baseball player’s life. In December 2016, he did just that; only Konrad wasn’t around to see it.
Reuland grew up to become a professional athlete himself, playing tight end in the NFL over the course of five seasons. But on November 28 of last year, Reuland (who resided in California) suffered a brain aneurysm. On December 12 he passed away at UCLA Medical Center at the age of 29.
At the time of Reuland’s death, Carew, 71, was in need of heart and kidney transplants. A year prior, the Hall of Famer suffered a massive heart attack while playing golf. With his organs failing him, Carew was moved up the transplant list, and by sheer coincidence, Reuland’s heart and left kidney were used to save his life.
“We lost a wonderful man, so it had to go into a wonderful person,” said Konrad’s mother Mary Reuland in an interview posted on the Baltimore Ravens’ official website. “I couldn’t be happier that it went to such a wonderful man.”
Carew didn’t initially know whose organs saved his life. “They found me a 29-year-old heart. You never know, it could be time for a comeback,” he jokingly told Fox Sports in January.
It turns out that Konrad’s lone meeting with Carew as a child made a profound impact on him.
“He gets in the car…and he’s saying ‘mom, mommy, I met Rod Carew today! You know he’s a pro athlete?! I want to be a pro athlete’ and the rest of the day that’s all he talked about was meeting Rod Carew,” Mary Reuland told CBS News.
Because of that encounter, Mary wanted to meet the man whose body know functioned on her son’s heart.
“That was really cathartic for me to be able to hear it again,” Mary told CBS News after hearing the heart beating through a stethoscope for the first time.
Carew’s heart attack inspired the American Heart Association to launch the “Heart of 29” campaign, named after the jersey number he wore throughout his career. With the organs that saved him coming from a 29-year-old, the campaign takes on a new meaning.
He and his wife Rhonda are now using their story to promote organ donations as well as brain and heart health.
“It’s been a long journey,” Rod told the Los Angeles Times. “But the first thing I said to Rhonda [after the transplant] was, ‘Honey, we’ve got a lot of work to do.’ Hopefully, we can get the word out to save more lives.”
Joining the Carews in this venture is the family that will forever be linked to them, the Reuland’s.
“This is difficult. I feel like I’m on a roller coaster of emotions, but I would be anyway. I would be grieving no matter where and how I’m doing it.
“I feel this is a really good way to promote organ donation, heart health, and brain health and to keep my son alive,” Mary said.
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(Photo Credit: CBS News)