Former Inter striker Nwankwo Kanu says his heart foundation has ‘saved 542 lives’ after explaining how a cardiac problem inspired him to help others.
Kanu was only able to play on after an issue with his aortic valve was corrected two friendlies into his 1997 transfer to Inter from Ajax, prompting the 42-year-old to set up The Kanu Heart Foundation for children from underprivileged backgrounds in Africa.
“We have saved 542,” he told The Guardian.
“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. What they reported was that I had an issue with my heart and couldn’t play football any more.
“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.
“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-Foe die while playing. There have been too many others, including Cheick Tiote.
“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.”
The 83-cap Nigerian won three Eredivisie titles and a Champions League with Ajax, as well as a UEFA Cup with Inter and two Premier Leagues with Arsenal, before winding his career down at West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth.