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Lynn Family Stadium welcomes first-ever athlete to play professionally after heart transplant

Donate Life KY hosted the event to encourage Kentucky men to register as organ donors.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Donate Life KY is connecting Louisville's love of soccer to a growing need across the state of Kentucky.

On Thursday, the group hosted its 'Change of Heart' event to encourage Kentucky men to register as organ donors.

They welcomed folks into Lynn Family Stadium -- home to Louisville City FC and Racing Louisville FC  -- where the world's first-ever athlete to play professionally after a heart transplant shared his story.

Simon Keith is a former professional soccer player who's had two heart transplants. His first in 1986 came at age 21, when he was already a rising star in the sport. Three years after the surgery, he was drafted No. 1 overall to the Major Indoor Soccer League.

"Recovering from a heart transplant, and being a professional athlete didn't really make sense to a lot of people," he said. "So as much as it was very difficult physically, I think the psychological barrier to break was very difficult."

Keith is one of the longest-living organ transplant recipients.

Donate Life KY said 1,000 people across the state are needing a life-saving organ transplant at any given moment, and more than 600 of them are men -- who are statistically less likely to register as donors.

The organization hopes spreading the word through a prominent figure in the soccer world will encourage folks to change their minds -- especially in a city where the sport has spiked in popularity.

"Transplantation works, so just make a choice," Keith said. "There's a lot of people in America on this waiting list desperately waiting, and checking a simple yes in a significant box can make all the difference for people's lives and their legacies." 

Donate Life KY Executive Director Shelley Snyder said 65% of Kentuckians are registered organ donors.

"The only way they receive their gift of life is if someone else says yes to registering as a donor," she said.

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