The greatest medical danger for someone with a transplant is that the body will reject the foreign organ. But because rejection usually occurs within a year after the operation, that risk is now very small for Keith. The complication that doctors fear most in his case is kidney damage from the three drugs he will have to take twice a day for the rest of his life to stave off rejection. His blood is tested every few months to determine whether these powerful drugs are doing more harm than good. Another potential complication is that since these drugs inhibit the immune system, he is especially susceptible to infection.
Heart-transplant patients have run marathons and returned to stressful jobs, but Keith is the first to play a professional sport. Dr. Arnie Melby—one of the team physicians for Cleveland—says, "We treat him like anybody else on the team. Only he's in better shape than most of them."
Still, it doesn't take much of a cynic to suggest that perhaps somebody at an expansion franchise thought a soccer player with a heart transplant would be an excellent drawing card. But Keith is no publicity stunt. The Crunch could not afford to waste the first pick in the draft on a mediocre player. Keith was the best player in Wichita. At 5'8" and 170 pounds, he's built for the indoor game, with quick feet and a knack for finding seams in the defense. On Oct. 7 he scored the second goal in Crunch history when he sneaked behind a defender during an exhibition game at Richfield Coliseum and, before the defender could recover, pounded a shot into the upper-right corner of the net.
In spite of all the publicity Keith has attracted, the team is surely taking a public relations risk. If Keith were to collapse during practice or in a game, the Crunch would be viewed not as the team that gave him an opportunity to play but as the team that exploited him. The Crunch anticipated that it might be charged with using Keith as a publicity stunt. In Wichita before the all-star game, Miller tracked Keith down at his hotel and told him that the team was going to pick him first. Keith was relieved because he had a charley horse and wasn't sure he could play. Miller told him that he didn't have to worry about that now, and then he jokingly told Keith to go out and win the MVP. That evening, Keith scored one goal, assisted on two others and was named offensive MVP.
No one can doubt Keith's soccer pedigree or his ability. His father, David, played for a semipro team in England in the '50s and was assistant coach of the Canadian team in 1982. Simon started playing when he was four, and after competing for Millwall—then a third-division team in England—for a year after high school, he was offered one of 16 spots on the Canadian development team. The team trains in Victoria, so Simon lived at home and enrolled at the University of Victoria in September '84.
That fall he caught what he thought was a cold. He was named All- Canada while playing for the university team, but he tired easily. By December, with his symptoms lingering into a third month, Keith realized he was dealing with more than a runny nose. "I was at [University of British Columbia] practice and I was freezing, so I had my hands in my pockets," he says. "The coach yelled at me to take them out. When I did, they were pure white." A few minutes later the coach chewed him out again for having his hands in his pockets. "I didn't even know I had put them back in there," he says. The coach called Keith aside and told him that he had a bad attitude.
Convinced that his problem was physiological rather than emotional, Simon and his father consulted a doctor, who told them, "Simon's stress level is too high and his energy level too low." The Keiths looked at each other. Simon says, "We were both thinking, Listen to this crap."
Keith took a month off. When he didn't improve, he had himself checked out by, a doctor at Vancouver General Hospital. A biopsy showed that his heart had been damaged by a virus. The disease, called viral myocarditis, had destroyed part of his heart muscle, and the heart could not pump blood efficiently—thus, his fatigue. Keith was put on prednisone (a corticosteroid, a different type of steroid from those used by some athletes to build muscle mass) to reduce the swelling of the heart muscle.
The medicine worked so well that Keith returned to the team and again earned All- Canada honors. He was labeled a miracle boy in Victoria. But as he was being weaned from the steroids, his symptoms returned. By February 1986 he was back at Vancouver General. Keith says, "They did another biopsy and the doctors said, 'That's it. Your heart is too damaged. You need a transplant or you're dead.' "
In April he was sent to the biggest transplant center in Canada, University Hospital in London, Ont. Like all candidates for a transplant, Keith had to be evaluated. He was under the impression that the better he performed—the healthier he appeared to be—the sooner he would receive a transplant. So he hopped on a treadmill and ran seven miles. The doctors sent him home and told him to come back in three months, when he would be nearer death. "I know they have priorities," says Keith. "But you don't think about that when it's you. You think, Why wait until I'm as sick as that guy? Give it to me."