Thirty-two years after a revolutionary heart transplant, Simon Keith is back on the organ transplant wait list.
This time the 54-year-old from Victoria needs another heart to replace the one he received in 1986, and a new kidney. The retired soccer player made history as the first to play professionally with a heart received through a transplant.
Keith’s been battling and deteriorating for a while, but the news only just got out, said lifelong friend Ian Klitsie, who runs the foundation with Keith. Klitsie stayed here in Victoria but talks to Keith almost everyday.
“He’s been in the San Diego hospital on and off, but was able to escape to attend foundation events,” Klitsie said. “We didn’t want to upset anyone at that point in time as this is something difficult to face again, he has to go through it all again.”
But now, Simon won’t be leaving the hospital until he gets a heart and kidney, Klitsie said.
Klitsie has known Keith since the pair were four years old and playing soccer together, often coached by Keith’s dad as the two climbed up through the ranks. Both attended Central junior high (now a middle school) before Simon and his older brother Adam moved and transferred from Vic High to Mount Douglas.
“I talk to him everyday, more often now that this story is out and both our phones are off the hook,” Klitsie said. “I told him, ‘you have control of your phone, you don’t need to answer it.’”
Keith has spent his retirement driving the Simon Keith Foundation to create awareness in the U.S. and Canada of the need for organ donors and to support youth who undergo an organ transplant.
He now lives in southern California where he played pro soccer after a stint at the UNLV in Las Vegas where he established himself as an all-star. He then played for the Cleveland Crunch of the Major Indoor Soccer League, the short-lived Victoria Vistas (1989-90) and also the Winnipeg Fury and Montreal Supra in the Canadian Soccer League.
The silver lining for Keith — who is among the longest living heart transplant recipients — is that California is well populated as transplant wait lists are regional.
“Simon matter-of-factly said just yesterday, ‘It is what it is, I’m now one of the 115,000 waiting for a transplant (in the U.S.A.),” Klitsie said.
Among the events Keith is involved in is the foundation’s annual October golf tournament in Las Vegas. Over the last five years the tourney has pulled in $1 million. This year’s drew about 100 people from Victoria.
But everything is on hold for now.
“[Keith] plans to be better and back at it in October, if not sooner,” Klitsie said.
“Surgery is a far cry from what it was 32 years ago,” Klitsie said. “Kids are released 10 days after their transplant now, sent out to live their life. Sure, it’s life saving, but at the end of the day you have to get back on with the life.”