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San Clemente Journal

The Story of Konrad Reuland, A Tale of Tragedy and Triumph

Dec 01, 2021 09:50AM ● By Tom Marshall

Mom (Mary), Konrad, Austin (middle), Warren, Dad (Ralf).

by Tom Marshall

The real life story of Konrad Reuland is a jaw dropper. Son of former San Clemente (now San Juan Capistrano) physician Dr Ralf Reuland and his wife Mary, Konrad’s story begins when he was in elementary school. One of his classmates was the son of baseball legend Rod Carew, who had starred for the Los Angeles Angels, and one day Konrad got to meet the all-star outfielder himself.   

Like many boys that age, the brief meeting inspired him to want to become a professional athlete, but unlike most boys, Konrad didn’t give up on that dream. “All the way home he insisted he would be a pro himself one day,” remembered Mary. “Even at that age he was determined to follow through.”

Follow through he did. First, he starred in football and basketball at Mission Viejo High; then he played football for Notre Dame and Stanford University. Signed originally by the San Francisco 49rs, he went on to play tight end for three years in the NFL for the New York Jets and Baltimore Ravens. He was injured and dropped by the Ravens, and this is where the story takes a Hollywood turn.

While getting back in shape working out at a gym one day in November, 2016, Konrad heard a pop in his head followed by an immense headache. He called his father, the doctor (Dr. Reuland is also my doctor) who ordered, “Go to the emergency room.  I’ll meet you there.” Tests showed the presence of a serious brain aneurysm; surgery was planned. Unfortunately the aneurysm ruptured, Konrad slipped into a coma and died nearly two weeks later, just before Christmas.
His story, however, doesn’t end there. Konrad had checked the organ donor box on his driver’s license. A few months earlier, baseball Hall of Famer Carew had suffered a massive heart attack and was on death’s doorstep. He was at the top of the list for heart transplants. No strings were pulled, but Konrad’s heart was successfully transplanted into the chest of his boyhood hero. 
Seventy-five other people’s lives were saved or improved on that day due to organ and tissue transplants from Konrad. He was 29 years old when he died. Rod Carew’s uniform number was 29. Konrad never played one game of professional baseball, but at least in part he’s in the baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.

Even Hollywood couldn’t conjure up what happened next. Christmas morning, the Reuland’s were sitting at their kitchen table, glum as one would expect. (Dr. Reuland picks up the story from here.)  

“Mary says ‘Konrad just give me a sign that you are alright.’ Within a minute one of my best friends calls and says he was at the cemetery leaving flowers on Konrad’s grave and there is a bright shaft of sunlight shining right on Konrad’s grave. He took several pictures and sent them to me.” (One of them accompanies this article.)

That friend is Chris MacDonald of San Clemente. He remembers Konrad befriending his niece, Kimiko Lindsey Schroder who at age four had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. For over seven years until his death, Konrad and Kimi became best friends, often doing goofy things together even when she was hospitalized. Kimi passed away at age 12 shortly after Konrad’s death. “I believe God took Konrad to ease Kimi’s passing,” MacDonald reflects.

Due to the celebrity of the people involved, the Reuland’s and their two other sons Warren and Austin have had to deal publicly with their grief with grace and resolve. Dr. Reuland notes, “It has given all of us in the family added courage. If I could speak to Konrad now, he’d say ‘keep moving forward. You can’t give up.’”

Following the funeral, the Reulands met Carew and his wife and were able to hear Konrad’s heart beating in Carew’s chest. “The beat was so strong, I just knew it was Konrad’s,” said Mary. “A heartbeat is almost like a fingerprint. Everyone’s is a little different,” noted Dr. Reuland.
A year later I attended a blessing of Konrad’s grave their church asked to hold. It was a grey, spitting light rain kind of day. But, exactly as the Bishop began the service, the sun broke through. I saw it with my own eyes. Mary also noticed that a small hummingbird came and hovered over Konrad’s grave just as the Bishop spread holy water on the headstone. 
Konrad’s story has been honored in an NFL film documentary. His family has taken part in pre-game festivities with the NFL and the Angels honoring Konrad. His likeness has also appeared on a Rose Bowl parade float that his parents helped decorate.

Noting that thousands of people die every year while waiting for an organ transplant, the Reuland family has started a non-profit foundation to encourage and help fund research into brain aneurysms. They will also fund scholarships for kids in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program who want to go to college and play collegiate sports. In collaboration with the city of Mission Viejo they are holding a charity pickleball and tennis tournament February 26 and 27, 2022 in Mission Viejo. Sign-ups are on their website www.konradreuland.com. Also, at the urging of other charities, they will be seeking 88 people to join their Circle of 88 by donating $100 (tax deductible) to the cause on “Giving Tuesday” November 30, which happens to be 88 days until the tournament. The latest coincidence in this story … Konrad’s uniform number was 88. 
As Dr.Reuland notes, “We hope by raising public awareness and through research we can give humanity a much needed shot in the arm.”

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