Nobody had ever questioned the heart of former UNLV standout Simon Keith on the soccer pitch until July 7, 1989, in Wichita, Kan. Al Miller, then general manager of the Cleveland Crunch of the Major Indoor Soccer League, approached Keith at the Budweiser All-Star Senior Bowl for top American college soccer players and cut to the chase.
“Word is you have some kind of heart problem?”
Keith responded by fist-bumping his own chest.
“One in,” he said, “one out.”
Keith then scored a goal and assisted on two others.
One in. Two more in.
The next day, the Crunch made him the No. 1 overall pick in the MISL draft.
Three years before Miller had popped the question, Keith had undergone a heart transplant. That was one of the few times he had mentioned it to somebody not wearing a lab coat.
Yes, he’d had a change of heart, in the most literal sense. Yes, he was grateful beyond words for receiving a second chance at life. No, he did not want to be defined as a marvel of medical science.
And that’s basically the way it stayed for the next 18 years, until Aug 19, 2007. It was on that day that Simon Keith did the math. It was on that day he realized he had lived 7,713 days with his own heart … and 7,713 days with somebody else’s heart.
He began to have a change of heart in the figurative sense.
Whereas he used to be more guarded than the Italian national soccer team’s goal with a 1-nil lead, Keith began to open up. Not like Brazil, mind you. But if somebody asked, “Aren’t you the guy …” he would reply, yeah, he was the guy.
He was getting more comfortable talking about his situation. And when former UNLV basketball star Glen Gondrezick had his heart transplant in 2008, Simon Keith reached out to him, and Gondo appreciated it. He told me so, before he died. On Wednesday, it will have been two years since Gondo died.
Simon Keith had received the perfect heart. Glen Gondrezick did not.
Perhaps it is coincidence that Keith has become a spokesman for Nevada Donor Network, Southern Nevada’s link to organ and tissue procurement and awareness and plans to start his own foundation. Perhaps it is not.
“I don’t know why,” Keith, 46, said. “Something inside of me said, ‘Now’s the time.’ “
Something inside of him? You needn’t be Ben Matlock to identify the primary suspect.
“I think people have the perception about getting an organ that all the stars have to line up, that it’s like winning the lottery,” Keith said. “It’s not like that. The only problem is there is a shortage of organs, because people won’t donate.”
They don’t donate for various reasons. Some think their deaths might be “rushed” so vital organs can be harvested; some think they can’t have an open casket funeral if they donate organs; some don’t donate because of religious beliefs; some don’t donate because they consider Gondo’s fate and say, “Why bother?”
The Nevada Donor website (Nevadadonor.org) addresses these concerns in a frequently-asked-questions section. As for the part about Gondo, well, take a gander at Simon Keith — 25 years with a transplanted heart in July — and see if you don’t change your mind.
April is National Donor Life month. That means you still have nine days to get down to the DMV and tell them you’d like a little red heart for your driver’s license. That little red heart indicates you are an organ donor, that your sudden death might provide another with the sudden gift of prolonged life.
If you don’t do it this month, says Simon Keith, do it next month. Or the month after that. Or the month you renew your driver’s license.
Just do it.
Do it for him.
Do it for Gondo.
Do it for one of 110,000 Americans who need organ transplants, and might die without one.
Do it for yourself, guys.
You think chicks dig puppies and the long ball? Just wait until they see that little red heart on your driver’s license.
Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.