On April 3, the fourth night of the new baseball season,
California Angels hitting coach Rod Carew was running through
his pregame routine with a blissful sense of purpose. He oversaw
batting practice. Reviewed that night's opposing pitchers with
his hitters. Suddenly an Angels staffer approached Carew and
gently said an urgent call awaited him. Carew soon was making
the 10-minute drive from Anaheim Stadium to Children's Hospital
of Orange County with his heart clenched in fear. Again.
Six months have passed since 18-year-old Michelle, the youngest
of Rod and Marilynn Carew's three daughters, was diagnosed with
acute nonlymphocytic leukemia. Each month has brought
life-threatening scares. During his very public fight to save
Michelle's life, the world has become acquainted with the human
side of Rod Carew--the Carew Nobody Knew during his stoic reign
as baseball's most coolly efficient hitting machine.
From the day Michelle entered the hospital last Sept. 11, the
Carews have known that she needed a lifesaving bone marrow
transplant. Because of Michelle's genetic background--Rod is
black with West Indian and Panamanian roots, and Marilynn is
white and of Russian-Jewish heritage--doctors originally said
Michelle's chances of getting a donor match would be like
"finding a needle in a haystack."
But Rod wouldn't sit back and accept that. "You see other
parents in the hallway," he says. "You go into their kid's room,
talk to the kids, try to perk them up, whatever. Sometimes when
you come back the next day, there's just an empty bed. It's
devastating. One thing Michelle told me: 'If you do something,
don't just do it for me.' "
April 21, 1996
So, taking advantage of his Hall of Fame stature, he began
calling reporters, inviting TV crews to her ward and appearing
at marrow donor drives. Since then, the National Marrow Donor
Program has experienced a threefold increase in calls to its
1-800-MARROW2 hot line. Enrollment in the program has leaped by
277,635, and--lo and behold--when a daily computer-bank search of
donors was run in mid-March, several potential matches for
Michelle were found.
The irony was that her condition by then had worsened and
doctors opted for an umbilical cord blood transplant that became
available at about the same time. The procedure had been used
only about 200 times worldwide, but data suggested that the
newer treatment carried a lower risk of cell graft rejection--a
vital consideration, since Michelle has had temporary failure of
all of her major organs. And has had 14 operations. And has
fought off two cases of life-threatening septic shock. To Rod,
the choice of two treatment options after months of having none
is proof "that miracles can happen."
To baseball people who know Carew, the sight of him inviting the
public into his life at such a raw-nerved time is something many
never expected to see. It wasn't so much that Carew, a confessed
loner, didn't need other people before. It was just that people
too often disappointed him. Asked what kind of parent he wanted
to be, Carew--who was abused as a child--quickly answers,
"Special. Just special. I wanted my daughters to know they could
always come to Daddy and, no matter how old they were, could
always sit on my lap and hug me and talk to me. They'd always be
Daddy's little girl."
Then he kept his vow. The night he got his 3,000th hit, it was
seven-year-old Michelle who sat with Rod at his postgame press
conference. When Michelle collapsed while doing some homework on
her home computer last September, the event that led to the
diagnosis of her leukemia, it was Rod who tenderly carried her
to bed, figuring she was suffering from fatigue. After
Michelle's heart flatlined for about a minute on Nov. 14--the
first time she nearly died--she locked on Rod's eyes and said,
"Daddy, I'm fighting. I'm fighting, Daddy."
The day Carew was summoned from the stadium, Michelle was again
fighting kidney failure. By the middle of last week, she was
back on a respirator. Last Saturday, Rod, who's on a leave of
absence from the Angels, said, "We thought we were going to lose
her on Wednesday."At week's end, it was still too early to tell
if the cord blood transplant would work.
Still, the transplant was Michelle's best hope. On March 22, her
family gathered round her bedside to watch the new blood cells
coursing through an IV tube and into her arm. "I had the exact
same sensation then as when I saw her in the delivery room for
the first time," says Rod. "As I watched those new blood cells
going into her, I kept thinking, Maybe I'm watching my daughter
being reborn. Maybe today's the day she'll be reborn, good as
new, all over again."