Kaegel's journey one of inspiration, hope
Reporter champions organ donation with season-long quest
Dick Kaegel had a request for this story, and he delivered it in a manner you'd expect from a longtime writer and editor."Downplay Kaegel," he said, "and play up the need for organ donors." And right there, you have the basis for all you need to know about Dick Kaegel, MLB.com's Kansas City Royals reporter. You see, in one sense, he doesn't want this story written. Because this is a story, as you might have gathered, about Dick Kaegel, and that inherently runs against the grain for a man who has spent his career chronicling the lives of others. But Dick, who just turned 72, did something this year that even the most hard-working, Marriott-point-hoarding ball scribes rarely accomplish in this day and age. Something that even he, in more than 40 years of writing about baseball for various outlets, including the last eight seasons for MLB.com, had never done. Dick covered every single game on the Royals' 2011 schedule. People who read that and understand the time and travel necessary to be there for every inning, every rain delay, every Ned Yost interview and Eric Hosmer homer and Joakim Soria save are going to think awfully nice things about Dick. Some, undoubtedly, will call or e-mail him to tell him how impressed they are. Dick, though, didn't agree to have this story written because he wanted to tout his bout with the beast that is the 162-game schedule. No, this story is being written because, five years ago, Dick was given a death sentence. He was diagnosed with liver cancer and told he had mere months to live. Yet because some stranger graciously decided to become an organ donor before he or she passed away, Dick has not only survived but thrived. So when you read this, think about Dick, sure. What he's done would be impressive for a man half his age. It's a true show of dedication to a job he still sincerely loves, decades after he filed his first notebook. But also think about all the people -- more than 112,000, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services -- on an organ donor waiting list right now. Waiting for that life-saving call that might not come. Waiting for that ticket to a life fully lived.
For so many others, the story doesn't end this well. According to information from the United Network of Organ Sharing, 18 people in the U.S. die each day while waiting for a transplant. The organization estimates that one organ donor can save up to eight lives. With those numbers and their own experience in mind, Kim and Nate helped start Gift of Life, a Kansas City-based non-profit organization whose mission statement is "to raise awareness of the need for organ and tissue donation and provide assistance to transplant patients, their families and living donors." One element of Gift of Life is education, and Kim spends a lot of time speaking with high school students ready to get their driver's license about what it means, exactly, to be an organ donor and how much it can help somebody in need. "Organ donation is a gift with no expectations, no strings attached," she said. "You do it out of the goodness of your heart, out of a situation that is very difficult. It's more than just signing your driver's license. That's our message. Any death under the age of 18, someone in the family is going to make that decision for their loved one, even if they have it on their license. And over the age of 18, if [the decision to be a donor] is not on [the license], the decision finds its way back to the family." That's why Gift of Life and other organ donor awareness groups stress the need to inform your family members about your intentions, should you pass on. If you want to make certain your organs and tissue are donated, make that wish known. Somebody's life just might be saved by that conversation. Somebody like Dick Kaegel.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.