A call Mary Reuland received Monday reaffirmed her decision to go public with the story of her son, Konrad Reuland, a former NFL tight end who died of a brain aneurysm in December and whose heart and kidney breathed new life into Hall of Fame baseball player Rod Carew, who received the transplanted organs.
"It was from a friend I hadn't heard from in a long time," Reuland said. "She told me her son saw the story, and he doesn't even drive yet, but he wants to be an organ donor. The thousands of people who have said [on social media] that because of Konrad they want to be a donor … that, to me, is huge."
Reuland, 55, and Carew, 71, both Orange County residents, held a news conference on an Encino Little League field Tuesday after a weekend in which CBS Sunday Morning and several newspapers, including The Times, chronicled the bonds between Carew and Konrad, who was 29 when he died.
Joining them on the dais were Carew's wife, Rhonda; Reuland's youngest son, Austin; Carew's cardiologist Ajay V. Srivastava of the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla and Tom Mone, chief executive of OneLegacy, the Los Angeles-area chapter of the nationwide organ donor procurement network.
"We know we have one grieving family and one elated family, and for the grieving family to step forward and seek this out says a lot about their character," Rhonda said. "We are so blessed to have the ability to broaden our platform to promote not only heart health but organ donation, vascular and brain health."
Carew wore No. 29 throughout his 19-year career with the Minnesota Twins and Angels, and his massive 2015 heart attack had already inspired an American Heart Assn. "Heart of 29" campaign to increase awareness of heart disease.
One of the Carews' goals is to have Major League Baseball adopt "Heart of 29" as a national charity, as it did with its "Stand Up To Cancer" campaign. They plan to push the NFL to do the same.
"It's been a long journey," said Rod, who spent 160 days in eight hospitals and had three major surgeries. "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."
The Carews will also team with the Reulands to promote organ donorship and brain health. The bond between the families was forged during a March 2 meeting in which Mary, her husband, Ralf, and Austin heard Konrad's heart beating in Carew's chest for the first time.
"For me, the benefit was immense," Mary said. "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."
Mone believes the Carews and Reulands "will save thousands of more lives" by sharing their story.
"I could talk all day about organ donation, and I might get people to understand it," Mone said. "But it's when donor families and recipients tell their stories from the heart and share how meaningful that gift of life has been, that people across the country make the decision to donate life."