Transplant Recipients Honor the Donors
Aug. 26, 1991
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Simon Keith says he could not make up a better story than the account of how he received a heart transplant.
As a 20-year-old world-class soccer player, he learned a virus was ravaging his heart. He waited six months for a new organ before one became available when a 17-year-old soccer player collapsed during a game and died of a brain aneurysm.
''It really sounds like fiction. It really does,'' Keith said Sunday.
Now 25, with five additional years of soccer behind him, Keith was among several hundred organ recipients who gathered this weekend in Pittsburgh for a meeting of the Transplant Recipients International Organization.
Keith, a member of Canada's World Cup soccer team in 1986, had learned he needed a transplant because of viral myocarditis. He returned to his native England and was awaiting a donor when the 17-year-old died in Wales.
Within four months, Keith was back on the soccer field.
He played two years for the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and three professionally in Cleveland and Montreal.
He doesn't dwell on the fact he has someone else's heart.
''I have goals in my life, things that I'm doing,'' he said.
Most transplant patients learn only scant details about donors. Keith said his case was different because his story was covered by the British media and because the circumstances of the donor's death also were newsworthy.
He said he never tried to contact the donor's family.
''It's not my place,'' he said. ''I'm sure they know where the heart went.''
One speaker Sunday was Joyce Willig of Fairfield, Conn., who received a liver transplant in 1982. She encouraged fellow recipients and their families to help others gain a second chance at life by spreading the word about organ donation.
''What makes us heroes is not that much to do with what we did,'' she said. ''Rather, what makes us heroes is what we choose to do with what we've been given.''
At the close of the gathering, transplant recipients hung organ donor cards, handmade items, photographs and other mementos on three potted trees, the organization's ''tree of life.''
Terri Nelson and Don Homrich of Grand Rapids, Mich., hung a wooden heart on one tree. The heart had each of their photos on it, with the dates and places they received transplanted hearts.
The two met four years ago in a support group for transplant recipients. They are now boyfriend and girlfriend.