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MLB.Com: Baines thankful for second chance with new heart, kidney

Updated: Jul 12, 2022

Hall of Famer will be on hand for White Sox home opener Tuesday

From MLB.Com | Scott Merkin

CHICAGO -- Harold Baines has been part of more than 30 home openers as a Hall of Fame player, coach and ambassador for the White Sox organization.

When he arrives with his wife, Marla, at Guaranteed Rate Field on Tuesday morning for the 2022 home opener in Chicago, something will feel different. Baines, now 63, will arrive almost 11 months removed from a life-saving heart and kidney transplant surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Surviving and recovering from the surgery has provided Baines, a Maryland native, a new lease on life. But as he told Thursday evening, the goal for Baines on that night simply was getting to Friday.

“Just focus on Tuesday when Tuesday comes,” Baines said. “I’m excited to get back after two years and not being there. Today, I just take it one day at a time.”

“It’s a second chance,” said Marla, who has been married to Harold for 37 years. The couple has four children and six grandchildren. “We would have taken an extra year or two. He’s back now almost like it never happened.”

As a player for 22 Major League seasons, Baines was as beloved as he was revered. The consummate professional finished with 384 home runs, 1,628 RBIs and 2,866 hits over 11,092 plate appearances. He was an outstanding defensive presence in right field early in his career with the White Sox, before becoming one of the game’s premier designated hitters.

Those two decades of baseball produced 10 knee surgeries and, ultimately, a right knee replacement, but nothing like what he endured almost a year ago. Baines had the heart replacement surgery --- an eight-hour procedure -- on May 20, 2021. The very next day, surgeons performed the kidney transplant.

“There’s nothing worse than this,” Baines said. “You are relying on somebody passing before you can live.”

“He’s a great guy,” said Dr. Ahmet Kilic, director, heart transplantation and associate professor of surgery for Johns Hopkins University, as well as Baines’ heart transplant surgeon. “He just smiled and was upbeat the whole time. His family was really supportive of him, and he really didn’t complain much.”

Baines learned four or five years ago that he had the familial amyloidosis trait from his father, Linwood Jr. The condition led to Linwood's death just as he was about to turn 78. The heredary condition, more common in people of African descent, results from a genetic mutation that produces an amyloid protein that forms into an abnormal shape. These abnormal “misfolded” amyloid proteins can be deposited and cluster in the body’s nerves and other organs and once they build up, this may affect and harm tissue and/or organ function.

Initially, there were no apparent symptoms aside from fluid buildup in his legs, but after being referred to Johns Hopkins, closer to his home, Baines underwent testing on Feb. 1, 2021. He received a call that same night telling him he needed to get into the hospital in two days. Baines' diagnosis was restrictive cardiomyopathy, according to Dr. Kilic. Due to the disease, Baines' heart could not relax appropriately.

Dr. Kilic's team evaluates how to best get a patient’s heart to recover. It usually starts with medications from the cardiologist, but when medications fail, other alternatives are considered.

“Three months later, I’m walking out with a donor heart and kidney,” Baines said.

Upon discovering the grave condition of Baines’ heart, Dr. Kilic implanted a balloon pump to help the blood circulate. The balloon pump wasn’t helping enough, and Baines was placed on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Machine (ECMO), which pumps and oxygenates a patient's blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.

“I don’t want to sensationalize it, but it’s really one step away from death in many ways,” Dr. Kilic said. “The entire blood supply from your body is being shunted through these catheters and to this device that oxygenates and pumps blood, so it acts to both the right and left side of your heart, as well as your lungs.”

“Very very scary,” Marla said of the whole process leading to the transplant. “Two of our daughters are nurses, so we would always talk to them about what the doctors and nurses were doing, what they are describing. And they would always give us more information and help us out, which is good. Harold’s dad died from this disease because he didn’t really know what he had, had waited too long to figure out what was going on.”

Baines said he wasn’t scared because he trusted the process. It’s a mantra he has embraced, including during recovery.

“Some days, I did have bad days,” Baines said. “It was hard work even after you get the transplant, what you have to do. You have to learn how to eat again, you have to learn how to walk again. It’s still a journey, but I’m in a better place now.”

“Of course, you will have ups and down,” Dr. Kilic said. “It’s human nature for us to doubt things once in a while or to get down once in a while. But especially when you feel like you are making progress one day, and the next day we are going on to bigger machines ... he was very resilient.”

A heart became available five days after Baines was placed on ECMO, and the transplants were performed. According to Marla, the donor had to be between the ages of 18 to 39, had to be a male, and had to have the same blood type and the same height and weight as her husband.