LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3.com) -- As the Nevada Donor Network climbs the rankings -- it has become a leader in organ recovery per capita -- there is one driving force behind the non-profit whose experience with organ donation is more intimate than most.
For Simon Keith, chief operating officer of the non-profit Nevada Donor Network, organ donation literally carries his every heartbeat.
At 21 years old, Keith was a healthy, professional soccer player in London when a virus infected his heart. He was about to lose his grasp on life when they found a match for a heart.
"I got it just in time,” he said.
Time was exactly what became valuable to Keith, who returned to his world-class soccer status, but with an added goal of playing for the UNLV Rebels. He was then drafted by the Cleveland Freeze of the Professional Arena Soccer League, becoming the first-ever professional athlete in the world with a transplant.
"I fought the urge to become the heart guy,” Keith said. “I didn't want to become the heart guy."
But on the 25th anniversary of his heart transplant -- now with a family -- Keith put a face to the donor who is burned into his DNA.
"It never made sense to me until I stood in front of the young man's final resting spot," he said. "It was that kid -- right there -- that saved my life. It was really powerful."
Keith stood on the same field that claimed this young man's life. He died doing what made Keith history-making -- suffering a brain aneurysm during a soccer match.
He also discovered that the heart might not be the only thing his donor shared.
"The father brings out a picture of his son, and he has blue eyes, red hair and freckles,” Keith said. “Nobody in my family has that, except for my 17-year-old son.
"His name was John Edward and my son's name is Sean Edward.
"As difficult as it was for him to lose his son, he told me that it was all worth it when he met me and my family."
As for Keith’s generous time, he says it's in the nearly three decades of heartbeats that weren't guaranteed.
"So how many more years do I have? Do I have another 20? I don't know,” he said. “So, yeah, I got the clock ticking in my head every day."
Keith said that when he received a heart in 1986, doctors said he would have seven years. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, studies have shown that the predicted survival rate for heart transplant recipients has doubled over the decades.