Meet the Canadian English soccer player playing professional sports after a heart transplant

Abu Dhabi: A multi-organ transplant recipient who has become a global advocate of organ donation says the UAE has the potential to be a role model in the field.

Simon Keith, 57, an English Canadian soccer player who has had two heart transplants and a kidney transplant, praised the UAE leadership’s vision during a recent visit, and urged residents to register as donors on the UAE’s Hayat organ donor register.

“Organ donation is indeed the greatest gift a human being can give to another. The UAE is now at a crossroads in its journey [to become an organ transplant hub], and with the right allocation of support and resources, this can be a shining light in organ donation. The country’s leadership has demonstrated its ability to promote this kind of inclusivity and harmony,” Keith told Gulf News.

Set a positive example

He was recently in the UAE for the three-day International Conference on Initiatives on Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation, which saw global experts gather in Abu Dhabi earlier this month to discuss challenges and opportunities in the sector.

Keith himself represents the Simon Keith Foundation to raise awareness about organ donation, and lauds the example set by Abdullah Al Hamed, chairman of Abu Dhabi’s health regulator, Department of Health (DoH), who is a registered organ donor. on Hayat — UAE National Program for Organ Donation and Transplantation at its launch during an organ donation conference.

“Public education is very important [when setting up an organ transplant system]and what Al Hamed is doing is very important,” said Keith.

Keith is famous for being the first athlete to play professional sports after a heart transplant

Generosity that saves life

Looking back on his journey, Keith, who famously became the first athlete to play professional sports after a heart transplant, explains how the generosity of another human has given him another chance at life.

“I was 19 years old when I developed cardiomyopathy, and there was a risk that my heart would fail completely. I received a heart transplant, coincidentally, from a 17 year old who suffered a brain aneurysm while playing soccer. I was very young then, and moving on with my life [without thinking too much about what I had received]. But in 2011, 25 years after I received my donation, I traveled back to Wales to meet the donor father, and talking to him awakened something in me,” said Keith.

The Simon Keith Foundation

Keith later launched the Simon Keith Foundation, which is dedicated to raising awareness of organ donors, and which has done valuable work strengthening organ transplant systems, particularly in the US states of Nevada and Ohio.

In 2019, Keith received his second heart, and a kidney, after his heart function deteriorated and he had to go on dialysis. This time, the donor was a 54-year-old man who died in a car accident. Later that year, Keith visited the UAE to support the country’s organ donation efforts.

UAE milestone

The UAE has seen many organ transplants since the first kidney transplant was performed between related living donors in 1985. In 2016, the country declared brain death by presidential decree, paving the way for transplants of deceased donors. Since then, it has seen 109 organ donor deaths, whose organs have saved the lives of more than 400 patients in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

As announced by Abu Dhabi public healthcare provider, Abu Dhabi Healthcare Corporation (Seha) in 2019, the UAE has an average organ donation rate of 3.9 for every donor who dies, higher than the global average rate of 3.5 per deceased donor. It is also one of only two countries in the Gulf, besides Saudi Arabia, that allows organ donation and transplantation.

Abu Dhabi Community Campaign

Outlining the important journey that the UAE is currently undertaking, Keith emphasized the need to set an example to encourage organ donation among the population. Apart from Al Hamed, a number of senior DoH officials, including Deputy Dr Jamal Al Kaabi, have announced their registration as organ donors to set a positive example for society. The efforts are part of the Abu Dhabi Community Campaign in support of Hayat, which encourages residents to register as organ and tissue donors.

Protects organs

Keith, who has lived most of his life with his second heart, urges people to follow this example to save lives.

Asked what individual people can do to reduce the burden on the organ transplant system, Keith urged healthier lifestyle choices.

“We also have a role to play in protecting our organs, and this is determined by the foods we eat, and the choices we make,” he says.

Hadwin Floyd

"Coffee enthusiast. Hipster-friendly social media fanatic. Certified zombie expert. Problem solver."

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *