King of Hearts: Simon Keith

COO of the Nevada Donor Network and founder of the Simon Keith Foundation.

Simon with Chris Rodriguez,  an 8-year-old heart recipient  and hard-core soccer fan. | Photo by Anthony Mair

Simon with Chris Rodriguez,
an 8-year-old heart recipient
and hard-core soccer fan. | Photo by Anthony Mair

ACHIEVEMENTS: He is the world’s first athlete to have undergone a heart transplant and subsequently play professionally. His life expectancy was less than seven years after the operation, in 1986. He went on to be a soccer star at UNLV, then was the first player selected in the 1989 Major Indoor Soccer League draft.

ONE OF A KIND: “I have never met an athlete who overcame Simon’s circumstances. To say the odds of playing soccer again were overwhelming doesn’t even begin to explain what he did,” NBA superstar and fellow British Columbian Steve Nash wrote in the forward to Keith’s 2012 autobiography, Heart for the Game.

THE SIMON EFFECT: He helped turn the Nevada Donor Network from one of the worst-performing organ procurement organizations in the country to one of the best, recovering more donors per capita than anywhere in just two years. “We’ve absolutely changed the organization,” Keith says. “We’ve doubled the size, which means we’ve literally procured organs from twice as many donors than we’ve ever had in our history, which translates to more saved lives.”

HIS NEXT GOAL: The Nevada Donor Network is set to roll out a campaign at the DMV to encourage more drivers to become organ donors. Keith says that this is where 99 percent of Nevada’s donor registrations originate.

MOTIVATION: Keith’s inbox fills with stories from people who are on a transplant waiting list or have loved ones who are. Too often, they die before a match is found—usually because of a lack of donors. “It’s heartbreaking,” he says. “It’s not a medical problem, it’s a social problem that can be fixed. We’re just not there yet.” Today, 552 Nevadans and 120,000 people nationwide are on waiting lists for transplants.

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