SOURCE: Simon Keith Foundation

March 22, 2016 15:31 ET

Longest Surviving Heart Transplant Recipient Says It's Time to Change the Way We Do Organ Donation

Thirty Years After Receiving a New Heart, Retired Professional Soccer Player Simon Keith Returns to His Donor's Home Town to Raise Awareness and Advocate for Reforms Across North America; (April Is National Organ Donor Awareness Month)

LAS VEGAS, NV--(Marketwired - March 22, 2016) - Thirty years ago retired professional soccer player Simon Keith received a new heart, and as one of the world's longest surviving heart transplant recipients, he is returning to his donor's hometown of Newport, Wales, U.K. to support organ donor awareness and the need for reforms in his two home countries of US and Canada. 

During the April 30th soccer match organized by his heart donor's best friend, and one that Simon Keith hopes receives global attention, professional celebrity players from the UK will take on a team of organ transplant recipients, chosen by the UK's Transplant Sport and coached by Simon. Played at Rodney Parade, Newport South Wales, the celebrity team will be led by Newport coach and ex-professional player Mike Flynn. 

Simon Keith also hopes the UK's Match for Life will raise awareness of the organ donation reforms announced by Wales, which changed consent for organ donation from opt-in to "soft opt-out" in December, a move which the local government hopes leads to a 25% increase in the number of organs available.

"Within me beats the heart of an incredible young Welsh athlete, whose loss of life enabled me to live mine. Since receiving this gift of life, I have dedicated my time advocating for organ donation awareness and the benefits of living an active lifestyle following an organ transplant," says 50-year old Simon Keith, who feels North America can learn from the courageous decision made by Wales.

"Every birthday -- actually every day -- is a reminder that I am lucky to be alive thanks to the courage one family had in donating their son's heart following his tragic death," says Simon Keith. "Right now, over 123,000 people in the United States are waiting for organ transplants which could save their lives, while 4,500 Canadians are waiting. And Canada has lower organ donor registration rates than many other countries. We can do better." 

For now, until similar opt-out programs and national registries are in place, Simon Keith urges everyone to register to be an organ donor and once registered, speak to their friends and family about their decision to become an organ donor. 

Simon Keith's story:

Simon Keith had to leave his Canadian hometown and travel to the U.K. to receive his heart in 1986. He was only 21 years old and already a world class athlete and soccer player when he was told that due to an aggressive virus called myocarditis, (an inflammation of the heart muscle), he had just six months to live if he didn't get a new heart, fast. His donor was a 17-year old athlete who died of a brain aneurysm while playing soccer in Wales.

"One of my many moments of truth during that journey was when my UK transplant surgeon, Dr. Mohsin Hakim, looked me in the eye and told me the goal behind heart transplantation is to live the life you lived prior to being sick. I literally took his words to heart," says Simon Keith.

He amazingly returned to competitive soccer just one year after his transplant, playing for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). After playing two seasons with the Rebels, he garnered many honors including being named the Student-Athlete of the Year as well as voted as USA's Most Courageous Athlete.

After his senior season, he was named the Most Valuable Player at the Senior Bowl and was drafted first overall into the Major Indoor Soccer League, just three years after his life saving surgery. 

In 2011, he published his biography Heart for the Game with the dedication:

"To the brave families who, in their darkest hour, had the courage to unselfishly give the ultimate gift of life to others." He also started the Simon Keith Foundation, a not-for-profit dedicated to increasing organ donor awareness and educating young transplant recipients how to live life to their fullest potential.

In 2012, Simon Keith then joined the Nevada Donor Network (NDN) as Chief Operating Officer. Prior to accepting the COO role, he served on the Governing Board and was instrumental in instigating sweeping changes in the organization, leading the Organ Procurement Organization (OPO) from low performance to its current status as an innovative, respected world leader. One of only 58 OPOs in the US, NDN serves more than 2 million people in the state of Nevada and thousands of potential transplant recipients across the country. By delivering the 'entrepreneurial spirit' into the organ donation space, Simon Keith has assisted in leading the team at the Nevada Donor Network in averaging an astounding 50 organ donors per million of population. 

Keith also serves on the COO's council for the Association of Organ Procurement Organizations (AOPO), is a member of the American Society of Transplantation (AST), a member of the Nevada Chapter of the American College of Healthcare Executives ( ACHE) and serves as an advisor to Organize -- a socially innovative not-for-profit focused on ending the organ shortage in the US. 

The Simon Keith Foundation is dedicated to providing financial support primarily to youth who have undergone a life-saving organ transplant who desire a return to an active and healthy lifestyle. In addition to helping people with their non-medical expenses, the Foundation strives to increase organ donor registration through public awareness campaigns. http://thesimonkeithfoundation.com

Contact Information

  • Simon Keith Foundation Media Contact:
    Deirdre Campbell
    Tartan Group
    250-592-3838/250-882-9199
    Deirdre@tartangroup.ca