Hearn to be honored by NephCure Foundation

Hearn to be honored by NephCure Foundation

Twenty four years ago, Ed Hearn was celebrating. After nearly 10 years of struggling in the Minors, he helped the 1986 Mets to the World Series championship as a backup to starting catcher Gary Carter. His future as a Major League player looked bright and hopeful.

Following that World Series season, his career looked so promising that the Kansas City Royals traded for him, giving up All-Star pitcher David Cone. That trade would later be called the worst in Royals history, because Hearn suffered a shoulder injury so severe that he was sidelined and eventually forced to retire in 1990.

"The 'game' ended just as I had begun to establish myself as a Major League player," said Hearn. "I was finally going to be reaping the rewards for all the hard work and sacrifices I had made from as far back as I can even remember. I felt like a little kid who had run a hundred miles to get his hand in the cookie jar and after one bite or two of that first cookie, the jar was slammed closed."

During that first year away from the game, Hearn had to do a lot more than transition from the life of a professional athlete. He was diagnosed with three life-threatening diseases, including the kidney disease Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). Hearn's focus went from coping with the end of his professional baseball career to fighting for his life.

It is a compelling story, one that Hearn tells now as an ambassador for The NephCure Foundation (www.nephcure.org), which supports FSGS patients -- including thousands of children -- and raises money to fund research.

Since the onset of FSGS, Hearn has undergone three kidney transplants and has survived numerous bouts of skin cancer. He now takes in excess of 30 pills per day as he continues to suffer from FSGS, for which there is no approved treatment or cure.

For the past 15 years, he has used a breathing apparatus at night just so his body can function with some degree of normalcy. The breathing machine is necessary because he has sleep apnea. Hearn's 16-year-old son, Cody, has never seen his dad go to bed without the BiPAP breathing machine.

Yet as tough as this double-whammy seemed, Ed kept swinging, persevering with the heart and soul of one who would not be defeated. But eighteen months after his first kidney transplant in 1992, Hearn came face-to-face with one of the potential side-effects of the very medication that kept him alive. It was "the giant" who almost brought him to the end -- mood swings and major depression. At one point, the despair drove him to the brink of committing suicide in his own family home.

"No amount of training, head-smarts or bull-headed determination could have prepared me to battle such a monster," Hearn added. "If not for my faith, my family and a passionate nurse, we might not be having this conversation today."

A transcendental moment came during a routine vital-signs check in a Kansas City hospital room. Hearn's self-pity party was unceremoniously shattered by a perceptive nurse who knew about Hearn's Major League career and the World Series ring he earned with the '86 Mets.

She admonished him to count his blessings and lectured him with the story of the young woman who complained about her ragged shoes only to be jolted into reality when she met a man with no feet.

It was then, with the help of medical professionals and the family surrounding him, that Hearn summoned the courage and strength to battle back and use his adversity to help others by embarking on a life of charitable work. He joined NephCure as an ambassador and to this day continues to promote its programs and initiatives across the country, traveling to hospitals and dialysis centers to bring hope to patients and speaking at symposiums to further the organization's mission.

"NephCure is an important organization, because this disease needs the proper attention. NephCure works to find patient families, advocate for them in Washington, D.C., and fund research so that parents can get some answers," said Hearn, who authored the book "Conquering Life's Curves," based on his life's story. "There are thousands of children suffering, and instead of taking experimental drugs that cause other numerous side effects, these children should be living healthy lives. I do what I can to help."

Now, NephCure is returning the favor and honoring Hearn with Ed Hearn/NephCure Night at Citi Field on Friday. Visit mets.com/NEPHCURE to learn more about purchasing tickets for that night's game.

"Thanks to Ed and everyone with a passion for The NephCure Foundation, we have been able to make some significant strides these past few years," said NephCure executive director Henry Brehm. "We need to continue to push forward and let more people know that we are here to help."

The NephCure Foundation is the only organization solely committed to seeking a cause and cure for Nephrotic Syndrome and Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). Comprised of patients, their families and friends, researchers, physicians and other healthcare professionals, Nephcure aims to help science unlock the biological mechanisms that cause these serious conditions and ultimately find a way to cure and prevent them.

Greg Wiley is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.