Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

medical staff pulse newsletter

Text size: A A A
A BI-WEEKLY PUBLICATION FROM THE CEDARS-SINAI CHIEF OF STAFF July 28, 2017 | Archived Issues

Meetings and Events


Grand Rounds


Upcoming CME Conferences


Milestones

Do you know of a significant event in the life of a medical staff member? Please let us know, and we'll post these milestones in Medical Staff Pulse. Also, feel free to submit comments on milestones, and we'll post the comments in the next issue.

Submit your milestones and comments.

Share Your News

Won any awards or had an article accepted for publication? Share your news about professional achievements and other items of interest.

Click here to share your news

Carew Inspires Fellow Transplant Patients

Carew and Kobashigawa 480px

Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew jokes with Jon Kobashigawa, MD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Transplant program, during a talk to patients and medical staff at the recent 24th annual Heart and Lung Transplant picnic.

The softball game between Cedars-Sinai transplant patients and medical staff at the 24th annual Heart and Lung Transplant picnic earlier this month ended in a tie. That might be as close to victory as the physicians, nurses and other caregivers are going to get for a while.

This year, Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew, who in December underwent a heart and kidney transplant at Cedars-Sinai, was supposed to suit up with patients. A last-minute phone call spared the healthcare staff an almost certain loss at the hands of one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.

Carew had to leave the weekend event earlier than expected to catch a flight to Miami so he could participate in a pre-game ceremony honoring Latin-American born players at the Major League Baseball All-Star game on July 11.

"I was really looking forward to playing in the [softball] game," said Carew, who was born in Panama, and was an 18-time All-Star and seven-time batting champion. "I was supposed to be the ringer."

Instead of raising his lifetime batting average that day, Carew instead raised the spirits of the hundreds of patients, family members and staff gathered at Rancho Park after sharing details about his recovery and about meeting his donor’s family. Before the softball game, he explained why he felt compelled to attend.

Carew 240px

Carew said he is feeling very good and continues to get stronger after his heart and kidney transplant surgery more than seven months ago at Cedars-Sinai.

"I wanted to be here today to be with the people who had been through what I have been through," said Carew. "Just to see their smiling faces and understanding what folks here have gone through, and continue to go through, because I feel it."

The former professional athlete, who freely gave out warm embraces and firm handshakes, swapped health stories with fellow transplant patients. While back to an active routine that includes a special cardio workout three times a week, Carew said he is still working to improve his balance. But overall, he said he feels good and continues to get stronger.

He offered a special note of gratitude for his caregivers at Cedars-Sinai, which performs more adult heart transplants than any other U.S. medical center. In 2016, Cedars-Sinai surgeons completed 122 adult heart transplants. Carew was No. 119.

"I had a great experience with the doctors, the nurses and the hospital," said Carew, 71, who was accompanied by his wife, Rhonda. "They’ve given me a second chance at living. I want to tell you that life is good."

The hopeful and upbeat day was a long way from where Carew was almost two years ago. After a devastating heart attack, he was fighting for his life. And for one of the rare times in the champion’s life, he was losing.

It began early one morning in October 2015 on a golf course near his home in Orange County. He began experiencing chest pains after hitting a ball off the first tee. Somehow, he managed to drive the golf cart back to the clubhouse. Once there, he fell to the floor.

A physician later told Carew that if he would have had his heart attack farther away from the clubhouse — on the second or third tee — he probably wouldn’t have survived.

"I don’t know how I’m alive today," said Carew, who as a former athlete always kept himself in excellent physical condition. "I had no signs, no signs whatsoever. One minute I was feeling good, the next ..."

The next 15 months were a blur of physician and hospital visits, and personal struggle. He said he spent 160 days in eight different hospitals and underwent two major surgeries before the transplant.

"I cried many a night and morning," he said.

On Dec. 16, he received a new heart and kidney at Cedars-Sinai.

"The doctors tell me that I have a roaring heart now," said Carew.

In an unusual turn, Carew had an emotional meeting with the family of his donor earlier this year. The family had figured out from news reports, later confirming with the organ donor company, that Carew was the recipient of their son’s heart.

Usually, families wait at least a year before coming together, but the donor family, said Carew, was very insistent.

Rod and Rhonda Carew made the short journey to the donor’s family’s Southern California home.

"The first time I went there, his mom put her head on my chest to hear the heartbeat," he said. "She was in tears. I was almost in tears, too. But I decided to be strong for her and me.

"It was a great day," continued Carew. "They are a great family. I couldn’t have asked for a better family to donate their son’s heart."

At the softball game, Jon Kobashigawa, MD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Transplant Program, praised Carew as a wonderful ambassador for the transplant program.

"Rod looks very fit and is an inspiration to others here," said Kobashigawa. "He truly represents the spirit of heart transplantation and what it means to family and friends to get back to a great quality of life."

For only the second time in the history of the patient-staff softball game, this year’s contest was a tie. Patients have won 17 games and healthcare professionals have won five.

Next year, Carew promised to play.

"We’ll have a good chance of winning," he said with a smile.