Ex international, Nwankwo Kanu has revealed that his Kanu Heart Foundation have rescued many lives that could have been easily buried if early detection was not made as regards their heart.
Kanu remains one of Africa’s most decorated players in terms of winning laurels, having won three Eredivisie titles at Ajax, together with the Champions League, Olympic gold in the summer of 1996 and won the UEFA Cup with Inter Milan.
Besides, he also won two Premier Leagues and two FA Cups with Arsenal and another FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008, scoring the only goal in the final.
The Atlanta Olympic gold medalist in the football event told TheGuardian.com that he felt so touched with the story of a woman who brought her gravely ill daughter (Eniton) to him, feeling she had nowhere else to turn, and now she was begging him to save the child’s life.
Eniton was among the first children that the Kanu Heart Foundation took from Nigeria to London for surgery at Great Ormond Street hospital.
“The mum wanted to show me the girl for me to help,” Kanu says. “When she saw me at the hotel, she was shouting and suddenly the girl fainted. Later on at the hospital I promised the mum that the first kid we were going to operate on would be her daughter.”
“For a little girl of that age – not playing, no energy in her, not moving around; she doesn’t smile, the eyes are blue. They are really suffering, in a really bad situation, and you ask yourself: ‘If nobody comes in to help and they die …’
“But after all of the children had their operations, I went to visit them and they were full of smiles, jumping and playing with me, rolling around with me and when you looked at the mums, you saw the happiness. From that day, I said: ‘This is something that we have to do more and do more.’”
“We have saved 542,” he says. “But we keep doing it. This week four patients went to Sudan and we’re hearing that the operations were successful and another six are about to leave as well.
“We have partnered with hospitals, we do check-ups, we talk to the parents, we educate them and at the same time we take the kids to other countries for operations. The goal of the foundation is to build our own cardiac hospitals in Africa, starting in Nigeria. It would make it all much easier. As a footballer you win trophies and it’s good. But this is so much more.”
“I am a sportsman so what do you do? You try to advise other young ones that are coming through. You take boots and jerseys back home. You create an academy. You help them with their school fees.”
“What they reported was that I had an issue with my heart and couldn’t play football any more,” Kanu says. “It was in the national papers in Italy as well. That’s how I found out – through the news. Later on, Inter came to tell me that, yeah, this was the situation. I said: ‘I have already heard about it.’ It was a big one – and for it to be revealed in such a manner. It should not have been like that. At that moment, everything was upside down for me.”
“What I went through after my transfer to Inter made me stronger,” Kanu says. “There is no bigger test than when you are in between life and death so, if you can come up from there, you can handle anything. It gave me that push to go out and do whatever I had to do.
“It also changed how I saw the world. For example, if you haven’t been in a hospital, you don’t really understand what is going on in there. I realised there was more to life than only to be comfortable on your own. You can open up to help others. I know the pain that I went through as an adult, so imagine how it is for kids. It’s difficult for them to take that pain.”
“We’ve had people like Marc Vivien-Foé die while playing,” Kanu says. “There have been too many others, including Cheick Tioté. The clubs and the federations have to be serious about giving check-ups to the players. What is to stop them doing them every three months?
“It is something I have been pushing and preaching because who knows, I might have been one of those who played football and died if my issue had not been found during my medical at Inter.”