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Soccer ace Simon Keith needs second heart transplant, kidney

Simon Keith of Victoria, who made world headlines as the first player to play pro soccer after a heart transplant, is in hospital in San Diego, needing another heart transplant and a kidney. “It’s urgent.
Soccer Ace
Simon Keith in 2012, practicing with the Victoria Highlanders soccer team.

Simon Keith of Victoria, who made world headlines as the first player to play pro soccer after a heart transplant, is in hospital in San Diego, needing another heart transplant and a kidney.

“It’s urgent. Simon is on the top of the list,” said Ian Klitsie of Victoria, the Canadian executive director of the Simon Keith Foundation, which raises funds for transplant patients and awareness about organ transplants.

Klitsie said Keith needs the heart and kidney within 30 to 60 days.

Keith, a father of three, is 53.

He was a rising star out of Mount Douglas Secondary when struck down almost mid-stride in 1984 during his University of Victoria Vikes career by a serious heart condition known as myocarditis. He was on a path to play soccer professionally and internationally for the national team.

Despite his young age, Keith was being considered for the Canadian team to the 1986 World Cup. All that was gone in an instant. Instead of playing in the World Cup, Keith received a transplant in London in 1986 and became one of the rare athletes to play pro sports with a new heart. The story made headlines around the world.

Following recovery from surgery, Keith moved to Las Vegas in 1987 where he played college soccer for the UNLV Rebels with his older brother Adam. Keith was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1989 professional indoor soccer draft by the Cleveland Crunch of the Major Indoor Soccer League, a team for which he played two seasons. Keith also played professionally for the Victoria Vistas, Winnipeg Fury and Montreal Supra of the Canadian Soccer League.

“We are praying for Simon and have positive thoughts for him,” Klitsie said. “His ultimate message was for people to sign up to be organ donors just for days like this. I believe his mission is not finished. We nicknamed him Barnacle, because you can’t kill a barnacle.”

On the 25th anniversary of his transplant, Keith went to Wales to meet the parents of the person whose heart would beat in his own chest and give him life. It was a young man, then 17, who had collapsed and died of an aneurysm on a soccer pitch.

Keith describes meeting the young man’s family for the first time in his 2012 book Heart for the Game, which has a foreword by fellow-Victorian and two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash.

Keith was inducted into the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.

“I always looked ahead and not in the rear view mirror,” he said, on the night of the induction ceremony.

Keith was CEO of his foundation. He remained in Las Vegas after playing NCAA soccer there for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. Yet he never forgot the hometown that forged him.

“The sporting environment in Victoria is unmatched and burned into my DNA,” he said in 2016. “It laid the ground work for everything that followed. I am so grateful that my parents caught a boat in the late 1960s [from the United Kingdom] and came to this haven called Victoria, where sport is so much a culture of the city.”

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com