Victoria-raised former soccer star Simon Keith, who made world headlines as the first player to play pro soccer after a heart transplant, received a second heart transplant Sunday and a kidney transplant on Monday in San Diego.
The transplanted heart he received in 1986 at age 21 was failing and the situation was critical. He had been on the wait list since November. Both the heart and kidney operations, with organs from the same donor, were reported to be successful.
Son Sean Keith is travelling to be with his dad today, leaving training camp with the new Victoria-based Pacific FC soccer team, part of the Canadian Premier League.
“It’s been stressful, but this is a big relief, of course,” said Sean, 22, who is trying out for Pacific FC despite a foot injury that will keep him off the pitch for six to eight weeks.
“My mom [Kelly Keith] must have called me 10 times today. It’s going to be great to see and hug both of my parents. And with all our deepest respect to the family that lost a loved one. Their greatest loss is our greatest gain.”
Sean Keith has two older sisters, Sarah and Samantha, who are with their mom in San Diego at their dad’s bedside.
Simon Keith, now 53, was a rising star out of Mount Douglas Secondary when he was 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, he 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, he received a transplant in London in 1986 and became one of the rare athletes to play pro sports with a new heart.
Following recovery from surgery, he played NCAA Div. 1 college soccer for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Runnin’ Rebels with his older brother Adam.
Simon was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1989 pro indoor draft by the Cleveland Crunch of the Major Indoor Soccer League, a team for which he played two seasons. He played for the Victoria Vistas, Winnipeg Fury and Montreal Supra from 1989 to 1991 in the defunct Canadian Soccer League, which preceded the Canadian Premier League as an attempt at establishing a national pro soccer circuit.
On the 25th anniversary of his first transplant, he 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.
Simon described 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. Simon Keith said he was struck by the likeness of the donor to his son Sean.
Simon, who was inducted into the Victoria Sports Hall of Fame in 2016, is CEO of his namesake foundation, which raises awareness for organ donations. He remained in Las Vegas after playing NCAA soccer there for the Runnin’ Rebels. But 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.”
Now, his son could also be a part of that Victoria sporting legacy. And the dad will live to see it.
• The inaugural season of the Canadian Premier League begins next month with Island-based Pacific FC as one of seven founding franchises. The first Pacific FC game is scheduled for April 28 at Westhills Stadium in Langford.