MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Rod Carew is about four months removed from a massive heart attack that nearly killed him.
The 70-year-old Hall of Fame infielder carries a battery-powered device with him to keep his heart on track. But he says without hesitation he’ll be at spring training with the Minnesota Twins next month.
The meticulous and slender Carew was fit enough last year to look like he could take some cuts in the batter’s box with that sweet swing.
Now he’s a heart transplant candidate.
“I’m living a bionic life,” said Carew at TwinsFest on Saturday to help launch a yearlong campaign for the American Heart Association and cardiovascular disease awareness.
But living nonetheless.
“I feel like I was fortunate. I feel like I was given a second chance. I feel like the Lord wanted to keep me here a little bit longer,” Carew said. “So the important thing is to save some lives.”
The native of Panama who won seven American League batting titles with the Twins appeared at the team’s annual winter fan festival. Attending the event was one of his goals after suffering a massive heart attack on Sept. 20 at a golf course near his home in Southern California.
Carew teared up as he described the grueling recovery from surgery that left him unable to get out of a chair or go to the bathroom without help from his wife, Rhonda.
“I became a baby again,” Carew said.
The next item on the list is spring training, where he has long served the Twins as a guest instructor for young players in bunting, hitting and base running.
“I don’t know how much physical ability he’s going to be able to perform. I don’t think you’re going to see him standing out in that sun for eight hours,” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. “His presence is important to us.”
Carew, who lost more than 30 pounds after the surgery, has gained most of that back to within five pounds (187) of his original weight. After spending time in five different hospitals, Carew came home shortly before Christmas. He’s able to walk a couple of miles at a time now, with the goal of tripling that distance by the time he arrives at Twins camp in Fort Myers, Florida.
“When you’re in bed for that many days and recovering and not being able to be as mobile, you lose a lot of muscle mass, you lose a lot of your endurance, and it doesn’t come back overnight as much as he would like it to,” Rhonda said. “He doesn’t have a lot of patience for that, but every day I see him stronger.”
The heart transplant requires a six-month wait after surgery. The Carews are eagerly awaiting that procedure, so he can discard the left ventricular assist device that was implanted in his heart during surgery. The whole kit is about eight pounds, but he said he might move the five different batteries around his body so he can make an overhand throw.
“I told ’em I wanted a 21-year-old’s heart, just to see if I could go out there and start hitting some baseballs,” Carew said.
The awareness campaign is called “Heart of 29” for his old uniform number. The Twins, coincidentally, will wear new alternate red jerseys at home on Friday nights this season. They’ll be adorned by a special sleeve patch honoring Carew and the campaign, starting on April 13.
According to the AHA, about one out of every three deaths in the United States occur because of cardiovascular diseases. That’s part of why Carew, who has also been active in leukemia causes in honor of his late daughter, Michelle, was so driven to lend his voice to this campaign. Prevention can start with proactive scans at the doctor’s office, which Carew urged fans to seek.
Carew was originally prescribed a drug for high cholesterol.
“I did it for three weeks and I threw it away because I didn’t think I needed it anymore, and this is what happened to me,” Carew said.
He felt no symptoms of the oncoming heart attack until his hands became clammy and his chest began to burn while playing golf.
“The doctors can’t believe that I’m alive today,” he said.
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