Meet Konrad Reuland, the late NFL player whose heart and kidney are keeping baseball great Rod Carew alive

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, California — One evening last April, NFL tight end Konrad Reuland sat on a barstool in his parents’ kitchen and started filling out his driver’s license renewal form.

His mom was making dinner, so they chatted while blowing through their tasks. She pulled out plates; he updated his address.

Konrad played for the Jets in 2012 and 2013.

He skipped the questions for commercial drivers and military veterans. At Section 6, he paused and asked his mom for some advice.

“Do you think I should be an organ donor?” he said.

“It’s up to you,” she said. “It’s a personal decision.”

“Are you?” he said.

“Yes,” she said. “If I can’t use my organs anymore, maybe they can help someone else.”

He thought about it briefly and said, “I’m going to do it, too.” And on he went to page two of the form.

A month later, the Baltimore Ravens released Reuland (ROO-land). The Colts signed him in July, but let him go in late August.

Once the nation’s top tight end coming out of high school, he wasn’t drafted out of college. Smarts and character helped him earn a place in the pros. He played 30 games, starting four. His NFL dream had come true; he’d beaten the odds. He took pride in that. But he also understood that at 29 he’d become a journeyman, having played for four teams over the last five years.

He also thought he could still play. So he went back to California and sculpted himself into the best shape of his life, carrying a lean 270 pounds on his 6-foot-6 frame while waiting for another team to call.

“God only gives you what you can handle,” he told his parents, Mary and Ralf. “This is happening for a reason. It means I have to keep pushing harder.”

On Thanksgiving weekend, an artery in his brain betrayed him. It bubbled, then burst —a ruptured aneurysm. Surgery stopped the bleeding and patched the damage. But there was too much damage. As big and strong and tough as he was, Reuland couldn’t win this fight.

He could, however, do what he’s always done — improve the lives of others — because of his selfless decision to be an organ donor.

The colored circle below the RSTR and above-right to his signature signifies Reuland as an organ donor.

The fact this donor was a professional athlete doesn’t make his story more remarkable than other donor stories. But it does make his story newsworthy.

The story’s news value rises because of who received his heart and kidney: Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Organ procurement network officials believe it’s the first time a heart has gone from one pro athlete to another.

Another unique angle is a connection between donor and recipient. Reuland spent sixth through eighth grades at the same small, private school as Carew’s two youngest children. They even met way back then.

Carew brings more layers to this tale.

Since his heart problems began in 2015, he’s worked with the American Heart Association to help people beat heart disease. He launched an awareness campaign called “Heart of 29,” named for the jersey number he wore throughout his career. The name is more meaningful now because that’s how old Reuland was when he gave Carew this second chance at life.

And if anyone can appreciate a second chance — and if anyone can understand what Mary and Ralf are going through — it’s Carew.

In 1996, his 18-year-old daughter Michelle died of leukemia. She needed a bone marrow transplant but a match wasn’t found. Her dying wish was for her dad to get more people to become potential donors. He did such a good job that the folks who oversee the registry named their leadership award after him. He also holds an annual golf tournament that’s raised more than $4 million to fight pediatric cancers.

Wildly different paths brought together the Carews and the Reulands, binding them in a way that few people understand.

The emotional dichotomy to their relationship will always exist, exhilarating joy for Rod and Rhonda Carew, overwhelming grief for Mary and Ralf Reuland. Yet they’ve become fast friends because of a mutual purpose: Extending and improving more lives through the power of their story.

The full tale is a series of colorful strands that somehow twisted together to form a beautiful knot.

At the core is one person.

Konrad.


Ask Konrad’s friends and family about him, and they’re quick to use some form of the word “big.”

He loved big and competed big. He was massive in stature and did impressions that drew seismic laughter. Then there’s his appetite, which was enormous. As in polishing off five double-doubles, two shakes, two orders of fries and a soda in one visit to In-N-Out Burger while in high school.

Konrad at 15 months, with bells still on his shoes.

His height and weight were off the charts by about 1-week old. He ate solid food after six weeks. Born in April, he walked by Christmas.

Mary put bells on his shoes to keep track of her curious, energetic, strong-willed toddler.

At age 4, Konrad found a new outlet for his perpetual motion.

Sports.


Soccer, baseball, basketball and tennis kept him busy year-round, fueling dreams of becoming a pro athlete.

So of course he was a star-struck 11-year-old when he met a schoolmate’s dad who was a Hall of Famer.

He climbed into Mary’s car that afternoon and blurted, “I met Rod Carew!” At dinner, whenever anyone mentioned something about their day, Konrad interrupted, “But did you meet Rod Carew today? I met Rod Carew today!”

By then, Konrad had outgrown the local basketball competition. Ralf found him a new challenge by putting together a traveling all-star team.

Mary thought the team defended with the tenacity of piranhas. The name stuck. Over five seasons, the Orange Coast Piranhas held their own against the best AAU teams in the country.

Konrad is the tall blonde on the back row. On the far right of that row is Mark Sanchez. The adults are their dads: Ralf Reuland (left), Nick Sanchez (right).

Ralf and Mary Reuland met at age 12 and have been together ever since.

Konrad arrived during Ralf’s first year of medical school. Warren was born two years later. Austin came four years after him.

As a fivesome, the Reulands flowed with the harmony of a championship basketball team. Konrad developed into the “glue guy,” the bridge between the generations who held everything together.

At 9, he spoke at the funeral for Mary’s mom. He spoke again a few months later when his 31-year-old uncle died of a heart attack.

Mary and Ralf Reuland

Ralf called Konrad a “third parent” to Warren and Austin. He imparted wisdom on his younger brothers in a way that only a sibling can.

“When Konrad, the guy you look up to more than anybody, is telling you that you’re screwing up or doing a great job, you really listen,” Austin said.

Konrad and Warren were high school football teammates. After Konrad graduated, Warren remained on the team. Sometimes he’d catch a pass and the public-address announcer would refer to him as Konrad’s younger brother. When friends asked if it bothered him to be in Konrad’s shadow, Warren told them it was an honor.

“It made me push myself that much more to be as good as him,” Warren said.

Warren Reuland (right) tells the story of his favorite on-field moment with his big brother, Konrad.
Austin Reuland (left) explains the voraciousness of big brother Konrad’s appeti

Konrad helped Mater Dei High School win a state basketball title his freshman year. One afternoon, he asked Mary what she thought of him playing football.

She and Ralf had encouraged him to hold off for years, an easy choice considering his sports-packed calendar. Now he had the itch. An old Piranhas teammate — Mark Sanchez, a future star at Southern Cal and in the NFL — was the quarterback at Mission Viejo High School. Konrad wanted to join him.

Over the next three years, Konrad helped Mission Viejo go 39–2 in football and claim a basketball championship. A prep All-American as a tight end, he could’ve gone to any college. The Catholic boy chose Notre Dame.

Two years later, he looked to transfer. He picked Stanford, swayed by Warren going there, too.

As college teammates, Warren wore № 87 and Konrad wore № 88. The sequence put their lockers side-by-side.

Before one game, Warren noticed that after Konrad wrapped his wrists, he took a black marker and wrote MDWA on the white tape. What did the letters stand for?

“Mom, Dad, Warren, Austin,” Konrad said.


A dozen tight ends were selected in the 2011 NFL draft. Reuland wasn’t among them.

His coach at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh, became coach of the 49ers, and Reuland followed him up the San Francisco Bay. Reuland made the practice squad, but never got promoted to the active roster.

The New York Jets signed him the next year. Once again, Sanchez was his quarterback.

Reuland played all 16 games, starting three. Mostly a blocker, he caught 11 passes for 83 yards. He was a regular the next season until tearing a knee ligament.

He recovered enough to sign with the Baltimore Ravens, coached by John Harbaugh, Jim’s brother. Before even playing in a game, Reuland broke a bone in his foot and needed surgery. Injuries cost him the entire 2014 season and most of 2015. He played four games for the Ravens then was released.

Photo courtesy of Baltimore Ravens

Last summer, training camp with the Colts offered promise because their quarterback, Andrew Luck, was his quarterback at Stanford.

He played in three preseason games, catches a pass for 10 yards in his final outing. But when the Colts trimmed the roster a few days later, Reuland lost his spot.

Reuland’s career receiving stats. (Source: NFL.com)

He returned to Orange County and split time between his parents’ home in San Juan Capistrano and an apartment he shared in Irvine. Mom cooked; the apartment offered freedom, close friends … and a gym.

He worked out with personal trainers, improved flexibility with yoga and scrutinized his diet. He also began preparing for life after football.

He attended the inaugural NFL Business Academy at the University of Michigan. He came away seeing a future in commercial real estate, so he started toward it by buying a four-unit apartment building.

Every week or two, Konrad took a break from his workouts and his budding entrepreneurship. He drove to San Diego to visit his 10-year-old friend Kimi.

Kimi is the niece of Mary and Ralf’s good friends. Something about the little girl and the huge guy bonded them. She called him “my best friend;” he called her “my inspiration.”

Sometimes he went to her house, sometimes to the hospital where chemotherapy tried zapping her neuroblastoma. He didn’t always tell his family about the trips. Seeing him come home with every fingernail a different shade of the rainbow gave it away.

Konrad and Kimi on Nov. 17, one week before Thanksgiving.

A benefit of Konrad not playing football last fall was the five Reulands spending Thanksgiving together for the first time in nine years.

By Saturday night, Konrad had several days’ worth of indulgences to work off. So he went to the gym in his apartment building.

He loosened up with some free weights. Then he powered up a treadmill and began jogging.

He got off right away and called home.


It was around 10:30 p.m. Thinking Ralf might be asleep, he dialed Warren, a second-year medical school student.

“I felt a click behind my left eye,” Konrad said. “Now I have a real bad headache.”

Warren had recently studied neurology, but this was way beyond his scope. He took the phone downstairs to a real doctor.

“It’s probably not an aneurysm, but we need to rule it out,” Ralf told Konrad. “You need to get to the ER right away and get a brain scan.”

“Do I really need to do that?” Konrad said.

“Yes,” Ralf said. “You need to go right now.”


The best way to understand an aneurysm is to think of an inner tube.

If part of the rubbery lining becomes weak, it thins out. Eventually, the air pressure pushing against that compromised spot forces it to bubble out. If it’s not fixed, the bubble can burst.

Arteries can be like those inner tubes. If part of the lining gets weak, it bubbles out.

When a tire blows a hole, it goes flat.

When an artery blows a hole, it causes internal bleeding. It’s often fatal. Especially when that artery is in the brain.

Scans showed Konrad indeed had a brain aneurysm. Actually, he had two bubbles in a single artery. And that artery sat deep in the center of his brain.

At this point, Konrad only had the bubbling.

Doctors said he’d probably been developing it for years — maybe even since birth. The Reulands firmly believe football didn’t cause it; in fact, Ralf said that had Konrad taken a blow to the head that would’ve prompted a brain scan, the problem might’ve been detected sooner.

UCLA Medical Center is one of the best brain clinics in the country, so the next day he rode there in an ambulance. Surgeons considered their options.

The problems went beyond the depth. The troublesome artery also sat near areas that control speech and motor functions, adding to the risks.

They could operate immediately and clamp the problem. But that would require cutting open Konrad’s skull and into his brain. Even a perfect performance probably would leave some long-term damage.

Instead, doctors chose a non-invasive procedure. By snaking a catheter through his groin and into his brain, they could stabilize the walls of the weakened artery. Konrad might still lose some abilities, but he’d be more likely to regain them.

Before they could do this, his brain needed to heal from the trauma of the aneurysm emerging. So medicine flowed and a waiting game began.


Konrad remained stable and alert. Scared, too. He told Mary he feared sleeping or sneezing.

On Tuesday afternoon, he told his family that he wanted to rest.

“Go get something to eat,” he added.

From the restaurant, Mary sent Konrad a text that read, in part:

“you WILL defeat this. … Now, let’s prepare for the fight of your life!!”

He replied:

“I’m about to kick this things butt, with the help of God. He had something big in store for me, and this is something that will help manifest what it is. … I can’t wait to see where His will takes me.”

Konrad hit send and began joking with a nurse. Suddenly a strange look crossed his face. He told her he felt a “really bad” headache — a nine or 10 on a 10-point scale.

Minutes later, surgeons cut into his skull.


The operation took 17 hours. He came out with part of his skull removed, providing room for his swollen brain. It would take days, maybe weeks, to know if the surgery worked. Meanwhile, he remained in a medically induced coma.

Mary and Ralf relied on Konrad’s strong will to pull him through. “He always played better pissed off,” Mary reminded everyone.

They also clung to an old rallying cry, “It’s `Konrad Time.’” They used the phrase whenever he was running late or overcame obstacles — or when he combined the two for a last-minute victory.


Days later, pneumonia set into Konrad’s lungs.

The staff moved him into a bed that kept him face-down, easing the strain on his lungs.

The new position didn’t help. His organs began shutting down.

“Then,” Ralf said, “we saw more stroke activity on the brain scan.”

On a Friday, doctors called the family into a conference room to discuss the inevitable.


Mary and Ralf asked for Konrad to be turned onto his back for a proper farewell.

The change would further stress his organs. But it hardly mattered now.

Once he was repositioned, caregivers watched the monitors. Numbers that had been crashing began improving. Medically, this made no sense.

He continued to heal all weekend.

Everywhere, that is, except his brain.

On Monday, doctors brought the Reulands back into the conference room. They scheduled a test to determine whether Konrad was brain dead and discussed what might come next.

Doctors also discussed donating his organs.

Mary flashed back to the kitchen conversation. She hadn’t realized he’d checked that box.

She and Ralf of course understood what it meant. But now they had to process the reality. Parts of their son would soon be inside someone else.

It felt weird but right. His final act would be helping others. They especially liked the ripple effect — the family and friends of the soon-to-be recipients who would benefit from the improved health of their loved ones.

Something else struck them.

Although Konrad’s weekend rally didn’t extend his life in a meaningful way, holding on long enough for his organs to recover made it possible to extend the lives of others.

It was Konrad Time.


Over their final hours with Konrad, Mary kept her right ear on Konrad’s chest. The thumping of his heartbeat soothed her.

When it came time to leave, Mary told the representative of the organ donor network: “Whoever gets this heart better deserve it. Because Konrad had a good heart.”

She added: “We really want to know who gets it. If the people are willing, I want to feel this heartbeat again.”


Doctors pronounced Konrad dead around 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 12.

A Ravens-Patriots game had just kicked off on “Monday Night Football.” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh opened his postgame conference with the statement, “We lost a Raven today.”

Video courtesy of Baltimore Ravens

Reuland’s funeral and burial were held Dec. 23. The church service drew about 2,000 people, more than the sanctuary would hold for Christmas mass two days later. So many people went to the grave site that a traffic jam delayed the deacon who was presiding.

Jim Harbaugh, now coaching the University of Michigan, flew in. So did Stanford coach David Shaw.

Sanchez took a day off from the Dallas Cowboys to be a pallbearer.


While Reuland was stricken in the prime of his athletic career, Carew was well into retirement when his medical odyssey began.

Like many retirees, he’d taken up golf. His sweet left-handed swing transferred well, producing six holes-in-one in about as many years.

The morning of Sept. 20, 2015, Carew hit a perfect tee shot on the first hole of a solo round. Walking back to his cart, he didn’t feel right. He returned to the clubhouse and told workers to call 911.

Carew suffered a “widow maker” heart attack; a major artery in his heart was blocked. During a procedure to open the blockage, he went into cardiac arrest.

Overall good health pulled him through. Weeks later, he was diagnosed with extreme heart failure. His damaged heart could no longer pump blood to the rest of his body. So doctors implanted a machine to do it for him.

Left ventricular assist devices (LVADs) were invented to keep people alive for a few days until a transplant. Now they’re reliable enough that patients keep them for years, either because they can’t get a transplant or because they chose to stick with the machine.

How Carew and other HeartMate II recipients are connected to the LVAD. Image courtesy of St. Jude Medical, Inc.

As “a robotic man,” Carew led a semi-normal life. He even traveled the country on behalf of “Heart of 29,” his campaign with the AHA.

Until August. Blood thinner medications he had to take because of the LVAD caused bleeding in his brain. He underwent surgery and another grueling recovery.


Carew turned 71 on Oct. 1. Soon after, he went through a two-day evaluation to decide if he belonged on the heart transplant list.

Being healthy enough for a transplant seems like an oxymoron. It’s also a good primer for how intricate the process is.

From UNOS, the private, non-profit organization that manages the nation’s organ transplant waiting list.

Doctors told Carew they felt confident that with a new heart — and a new kidney to support it — he could live many more years.

He went on the list the Friday before Thanksgiving. Three Fridays later, a series of problems were getting worse. Carew jumped near the top of the list, behind only immediate life-or-death cases.


The Carews spent the following Wednesday doing routine LVAD maintenance at a hospital near San Diego. They arrived home around 4:30 p.m.

A few minutes later, Rhonda’s phone rang. Rod answered, listened and whispered, “I think this is it.”

Overcome with emotion, he handed her the phone.

Soon they were driving to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

Zooming north on Interstate 5, they called and texted friends. Several replied with the same strange message: Do you think it’s Konrad Reuland?

The Carews hadn’t heard that name in years. They knew Reuland played in the NFL. Why would he matter now?


Two days later, during Rod’s 13-hour transplant, Rhonda whiled away the time by scrolling through texts and emails. She kept seeing references to Reuland so she Googled him.

He died from a ruptured brain aneurysm … on Monday. This was Friday. She’d long been told there was a four-hour window to the get the heart from donor to recipient.

“Too farfetched,” she said.

A week later, at a dinner following Konrad’s funeral and burial, his roommate told Mary that Konrad’s heart and kidney might have gone to Carew. He laid out the timing and other details he’d pulled together.

Mary struggled to breathe.

She thought back to childhood afternoons with her dad and brothers at Angel Stadium. Carew had been her favorite player, the face she hoped to see every time she opened a pack of baseball cards. Now parts of her son might be keeping him alive?

The next day, she Googled Carew. Stories reminded her of his greatness as a player. She learned about the greatness of his character.

“It’s meant to be,” she said.


Mutual friends provided Rhonda and Mary with each other’s contact information.

Working together, they resolved the timing issue. After doctors declared Konrad brain dead, his body remained on life support so organs could be recovered. The heart went last.

They learned that Hepatitis B was the key factor in the match. Both carried a small trace of the disease, making them immune. Everyone ahead of Rod was susceptible, eliminating them as a match.

Next they verified that Rod, who has a B blood type, received organs from someone with Konrad’s blood type, O.

Rhonda, the naysayer, became convinced. All that remained was confirming it.


Connecting donors and recipients is usually a slow, tightly monitored process.

After a year, the recipient can send a letter to their local chapter of Donate Life, the nationwide organ procurement network. The organization passes the letter to the donor family, if they want it. Should the donor family choose to reply, a message is again delivered through the Donate Life chapter.

A meeting is arranged if both sides agree. It seldom happens.

Last year, One Legacy — the Los Angeles-area chapter — facilitated transplants of 1,462 organs yet only nine meetings.

The ratio is a bit fuzzy because some people received multiple organs and some of the meetings involved organs donated in previous years. Still, the extreme disparity shows the rarity of donor-recipient reunions.


Mary Reuland called One Legacy and laid out their entire story, including the fact people all over Orange County and across the country already thought it was true. (One example of the grapevine’s sprawl: the president of the Minnesota Twins heard it from a friend at Stanford.)

Instead of asking who received Konrad’s heart and left kidney, Mary asked for confirmation that they went to Rod.

She got it, of course. She also learned it was the first time One Legacy heard of an anonymously matched transplant between families that knew each other.

“It’s magical,” the One Legacy representative said.

“My word,” Mary told her, “is bittersweet.”


Fifty years ago this month, Carew made his major league debut with the Twins.

He won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1967 and the Most Valuable Player Award a decade later. He was an All-Star for 18 straight years. He won seven American League batting titles, so many that last summer the MLB renamed it the Rod Carew American League Batting Champion Award.

In 1991, he received the highest honor for a ballplayer: Getting elected into the Hall of Fame his first time on the ballot.

But on the afternoon of March 2, Carew felt like a rookie again walking into the Reulands’ back yard.

He’d hardly slept the night before. He pondered what to do, what to say to a family whose tragedy renewed his life.


The Reulands have lived in this house for 23 years. Walls and shelves offer a timeline of family history with several generations of wedding pictures sprinkled amid team photos and sports action shots.

The biggest frames hold portraits of the fivesome taken over the years. Mary’s favorite is from their final shoot, with her three boys holding her parallel to the ground.

Coffee tables reflect what’s going on now. In one room, there are books with the titles “A Time to Grieve” and “Grief Therapy;” in another room, “Proof of Heaven” and “When the Bough Breaks.”

Konrad’s black backpack remains right where he left it — on the floor in the entryway, still filled with dirty clothes from the gym.

The back yard features an elevated view of Orange County, orange trees that thrive every summer and a pool where it was always Konrad-versus-everyone in water basketball.

On a postcard-esque afternoon, Rod, Rhonda, their son Devon and his girlfriend Mary Zuromskis walked down a path along the orange trees to a grassy area beside the pool.

Mary Reuland, Ralf and Austin walked toward them, smiling. Mary Reuland reached to hug Rod and said, “Welcome.”

“It’s good to see you,” Rod said, wrapped in her embrace.

“Remember,” Mary said, “You’re a part of our family now.”

“Yes,” Rod said. “Forever.”

“And that makes me happy,” Mary said.

“You’re part of our family, too,” Rhonda said. “Thank you for wanting to meet us.”

Before going inside, they posed for a new family portrait.


A heartbeat is not just a heartbeat.

Like clouds and fingerprints, each is unique.

Over their 15 years of marriage, Rhonda knew the rhythm of Rod’s heartbeat. The first time she lay beside him after the transplant, she popped up, startled.

“Wow!” she said. “It’s so loud!”

Now that powerful heart was back in the house where Konrad grew up.

The families took their conversation from the pool to a living room. Sitting on a sofa beneath their final family portrait featuring Konrad, out came one of Ralf’s stethoscopes.

Mary went first. Her eyes widened and face went slack with anticipation. Ralf slid the tip of the stethoscope across Rod’s chest.

The moment the sound reached her ears, Mary broke into a wide smile. She melted onto Rod’s shoulder.

“Does it sound the same?” Rhonda said.

Mary lifted her head and nodded. “I’ve got it memorized,” she said.

Ralf went next. The moment he heard the sound, he squeezed his eyes shut. He tried speaking but didn’t. He gathered himself.

In a strong voice, he said, “Welcome home, Konrad.”

Austin went last. He listened, smiled and said, “Wow — it’s roaring!”

“That’s what the doctors tell me every day,” Rod said, chuckling.


The Carews and Reulands have a lengthy to-do list.

They want to spread awareness of heart disease and brain health.

They also want to encourage organ donation. (Fact: Konrad’s organs and tissues could go to several hundred people. The total won’t be known for more than a year.)

The Reulands are branching out, too. They’ve started the “Konrad A. Reuland `Little’ Endowed Scholarship” through Big Brothers Big Sisters. While Konrad wasn’t involved with the organization, he lived their mission of mentoring children in need of role models. The football coach at Mission Viejo High School established a fund for a memorial plaque that will hang under the scoreboard at the stadium; any extra money will go to a scholarship fund.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” Rhonda said.

“Together,” Mary said.

“I hope together!” Rhonda said.

They also understand that — together — they may face critics.

They’re braced for accusations that the transplant waiting list was manipulated to match pro athletes. They expect questions of why a 71-year-old received organs from a 29-year-old and about football’s role in Konrad’s brain injury. Both families are holding a news conference Tuesday.

The answers will come easily. They have nothing to hide. And they’ll stave off any blowback by relying on the final layer of this tale.

Faith.

Video courtesy of Katie Payne, a classmate of Konrad’s at Stanford.

Throughout Rod’s ordeal, the Carews drew strength from “prayer warriors from all over the world,” as Rhonda calls them. Daily texts to the group often carried biblical messages and an emoji showing hands pressed in prayer.

Konrad’s spirituality grew while at Notre Dame and he continued nurturing it. On what became the last real Sunday of his life, he called home and said, “Will you go to church with me, Mommy?” He rarely used that term of affection but his favorite church buddy was busy cooking and cleaning for Thanksgiving. Cranking up the charm worked.

Many of Mary’s final conversations with Konrad involved God. Remember that in their final text exchange he wrote, “I can’t wait to see where His will takes me.”

During the visit with the Carews, Mary said, “This is where God’s will brought him.”

“All of the things that line up along this journey are just beyond amazing,” Rhonda said. “It’s so difficult to wrap my head around all of it. Clearly it’s a plan from up above.”


A few days after the funeral, Mary wondered whether Konrad was OK in the afterlife. She prayed for a sign.

She didn’t know it, but at that very moment, a friend — Kimi’s uncle — was visiting Konrad’s grave.

Minutes later, he sent Mary a text that read, “Look at what’s going on at the grave site.”

His message included a series of pictures showing a ray of light passing across Konrad’s grave.

Between the shots, he looked around to see where else the sun was shining.

This brilliant light beamed only on Konrad.


Konrad would’ve turned 30 on April 4.

Mary spent the wee hours of that day staring at the clock, wondering what she was doing at that exact minute on April 4, 1987.

Mid-morning, she arrived at Ascension Cemetery carrying balloons and other party decorations.

A fresh bouquet of red roses already was on the grave, courtesy of Kimi’s family.

Austin joined Mary. They sat side-by-side on a wall facing Konrad. A Bluetooth speaker on another wall poured out Konrad’s favorite songs. Country music dominated the playlist, especially the band Florida Georgia Line. Party music.

The Carews drove up around 1 p.m. They’d intended to visit when the Reulands weren’t there so the grieving family could have all the space they needed, in every way.

Tight embraces showed everyone liked how the timing worked out.

Still, the scene offered an extreme example of their unusual dynamic.

Here was Mary, commemorating the best day of her life, the birth of her first child, at the site spawned by the worst day of her life, with both dates carved into a cement block.

And there was Rod, healthier than he’d been in 18 months, paying his respects to the man whose death extended his own life.

Once the initial wave of emotion passed, Rhonda shared some news: Her daughter Cheyenne is pregnant. In October, she and Rod will be grandparents for the first time.

“Us, too!” Mary said. “Warren’s girlfriend is due in May.”

Warren’s girlfriend knew it at Konrad’s funeral but waited to tell him. Warren waited to tell his parents until a trip home.

“Then we came here so he could tell Konrad,” Mary said. “Standing right here, he said, `I always wanted my babies to say Uncle Konrad.’”

Joy. Sadness. Emotions kept rising and dropping from one extreme to another, like kids on a teeter-totter.

Mary and Austin eventually headed out. The Carews remained.

They’d visited Konrad’s grave before, by themselves. They rode the emotional teeter-totter that day, too.

Rhonda placed a fragrant bouquet of white lilies, white roses and white hydrangea on a paved area. The card forked into the flower arrangement read:

Happy Heavenly Birthday Konrad
Our Blessings Always
The Carew Family
4–4–17

Next to the temporary headstone, Rod placed a plastic cube. It held a Heart of 29 pin and an autographed baseball.

He signed the ball where he always does, right across the middle — the “sweet spot.” Above it read this inscription:

HAPPY BIRTHDAY KONRAD. I PROMISE TO ALWAYS CARE FOR YOUR VERY PRICELESS GIFTS.
TIL WE MEET AGAIN, I REMAIN FOREVER YOUR BROTHER IN CHRIST.