CHICAGO — Baseball’s return may be the headline Tuesday, but that wasn’t the only story on the field at the White Sox home opener.
Harold Baines has had some big moments at the ballpark in his career. The former right fielder and designated hitter is even immortalized in bronze at Guaranteed Rate Field.
On Tuesday, the 63-year-old arrived for the home opener with a sense of gratitude deeper than any of the 384 home runs he slugged over the course of his 22-year career.
“I always liked opening day and I’m very blessed to be here today,” he said.
In May of 2021, Baines received a new heart and kidney. He was treated by a team at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, not far from his hometown in Maryland. He didn’t tell many people about the double transplant he endured, which is no surprise considering the Hall of Famer has always exhibited more grace than swagger.
“I mean, I always appreciated life but now if you went through what I went through, you are going to cherish every day that you have, well actually every minute that you have,” he said.
Like his father, Baines was diagnosed with a condition known as familial amyloidosis.
Dr. Ahmet Kilic is a cardiac surgeon at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“It’s an inherited disease, meaning that it gets passed down from generation to generation,” Kilic said. “And his heart just doesn’t relax the way it should to pump blood throughout his body. He was in really bad heart failure. There’s different grades of heart failure, and he was in the extreme end.”
Baines’s health deteriorated quickly and he was placed on a form of life support called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, to oxygenate and pump blood throughout his body.
“It’s the most extreme form of life support. The entire blood flow to the body goes outside of the body in a machine called the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation,” Kilic said. “(A) fancy term that means both ventricles of the heart and the lungs are being supported by this device.”
Within days of being hooked up to the machine, donor organs became available.
I just took it one day at a time and I was blessed to have a nice doctor, a great doctor to work on me, to get me to where I needed to go. They were patient enough, they told me that ‘We are going to get you the right heart and kidney.’ I had to wait three months, but they didn’t lie to me.— Harold Baines
Almost 11 months post-transplant, with his surgeon in the stands, the soft-spoken White Sox ambassador is using his voice to spread the word about organ donation.
“I’m a one-on-one person,” Baines said. “I’m not like a guy to go out in front. But if I need to go to the hospital to talk to somebody about how blessed I am to get two donor organs, and it does work, and it’s not easy, it’s hard work. But if you stick in there and you have faith, you’ll get through it.”
Baines is speaking out because Black donors are so desperately needed. In 2021 nearly 29% of people waiting for transplants in the U.S. were Black, but according to national statistics, African Americans and Latinos accounted for 15% of organ donors. Whites made up 66%. Race isn’t the only factor in transplant success, but it does contribute to a better match.