How a deceased former NFL player saved Rod Carew's life

Big League Stew

Rod Carew, one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, is alive today and that might not be the case if not for a former NFL player. In December, Carew, 71, received a heart and kidney transplant that prolonged his life after a massive heart attack in 2015 that doctors dubbed a “widowmaker.”

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Throughout last year, the ex-Minnesota Twins and California Angels star waited for a donor while also starting a campaign with the American Heart Association to raise awareness. When his name made it to the top of the transplant list, as chance would have it, Carew’s donor was an ex-pro athlete — from another sport in another city, but still part of the same fraternity.

As we learned on Friday in two touching stories — one from Garrett Downing at and another from Daniel Brown at the San Jose Mercury News — the transplant came from Konrad Reuland, a tight end who played in the NFL from 2011-16, including four starts in 2015 with the Ravens. Reuland died in December at age 29 of a brain aneurysm.

Rod Carew and Konrad Reuland (AP)
Rod Carew and Konrad Reuland (AP)

When his family elected to donate his organs — per Reuland’s wishes — they didn’t know what would happen next, that Reuland’s heart and one of his kidneys would end up with Carew. Now the two are forever linked, the tight end and the Hall of Famer.

Mary Reuland, Konrad’s mother, figured out that her son’s heart might have gone to Carew, and tracked down Carew’s wife, Rhonda, to confirm. When they figured it out, the two families came together for a single cause. From the Mercury News:

The Reulands and the Carews, bound by a single heart, have joined forces to fight cardiovascular disease and to promote organ donation. Both families spoke to the Bay Area News Group this week.

They are going public, both families said, because they believe Konrad has deemed it so. Sometimes Carew sits at Reuland’s gravesite and talks it out.

“I just thank him for saving my life and putting a roaring heart inside my body,” the 18-time All-Star said. “We have a long way to go together.”

There were some stunning coincidences in the story: Reuland was 29 when he died. Carew wore No. 29 for almost all of his career and his effort with the American Heart Association was dubbed “Heart of 29.” The two also met once, years ago, when Reuland was in sixth grade.

Mary Reuland told that she’s thrilled her son’s organs helped Carew:

“We lost a wonderful man, so it had to go into a wonderful person. I couldn’t be happier that it went to such a wonderful man.”

When you think about it, this whole thing is quite unlikely — that two men in professions that only a select group of people reach would be connected like this. Consider it a reminder that the universe often works in amazing ways.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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