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Annual Heart and Lung Transplant Picnic Welcomes Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew

Every year, Cedars-Sinai heart transplant patients, their family members, physicians, nurses, and caregivers gather for a summer picnic and softball game. 2017 marked the 24th annual Heart and Lung Transplant Picnic.

Patients and Heart Institute staff put their hands in for a rousing pre-softball game cheer. The staff vs. patient softball game is a 24-year-old heart transplant picnic tradition. This year, the game ended in a tie for only the second time in the friendly competition's history.

This year, while they warmed up for the game with barbecue and lemonade, transplant patients got a pep talk from a special guest and fellow patient: Baseball Hall of Famer and heart transplant patient Rod Carew.

"I'm just like you," he told hundreds of people who gathered at Rancho Park in Los Angeles.

"It was important for me to be here today, to be part of this event, because there are a lot of people who went through what I went through."

18-year-old Skylar Hooks meets one of her idols, Rod Carew, at the Heart Institute's annual Heart and Lung Transplant Picnic. Skylar received her heart just two months before the picnic.

Carew received a new heart and kidney in December 2016, and has since returned to an active routine, throwing out the first pitch at a recent Minnesota Twins baseball game and being honored at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Miami earlier this month.

Every year since 2010, Cedars-Sinai surgeons have performed more adult heart transplants than any other US medical center, according to statistics compiled by the United Network for Organ Sharing, the nonprofit organization that manages the nation's transplant system. In 2016, Cedars-Sinai surgeons completed 122 heart transplants.

Baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew (right) reunites with two of the people who saved his life: Dr. Fardad Esmailian (middle), surgical director of heart transplantation and Gabriel Esmailian (left), a heart and lung procurement technician at Cedars-Sinai. Gabriel flew the helicopter to pick up the heart that his father Farhad would transplant into Carew.
Heart transplant recipient Michael Libonati swings for the fences at the Heart and Lung Transplant Picnic's 24th annual softball game.

The annual summertime picnic "represents the spirit of heart transplantation," said Dr. Jon Kobashigawa, associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and a transplantation medicine specialist. "Patients are getting back to a great quality of life and spending time with their families."

Heart transplant recipient Jennifer Pike chats with pitcher Dr. Jon Kobashigawa, associate director of the Heart Institute. Jennifer, who had a heart transplant on March 7, 2012, is often joined by her Australian Shepherd—and mascot—Sergus.