Ex-Arsenal star saved more than 500 lives through his foundation

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The Kanu Heart Foundation helps predominantly young African children who suffer heart defects

Former Nigeria and Arsenal forward Nwankwo Kanu has saved more than 500 lives through his heart foundation since its creation in 2000.

Kanu needed life-saving heart surgery in 1996 after a routine medical examination, during his transfer from Ajax Amsterdam to Inter Milan, revealed cardiac problems.

His experience led to his founding the Kanu Heart Foundation, a non-governmental charity organisation that helps predominantly young African children who suffer heart defects.

The foundation has saved the lives of many children from underprivileged backgrounds in Africa and Kanu is proud to reveal the precise figure.

Speaking in an interview with The Guardian, the 42-year-old said:

We have saved 542. 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.

Kanu was lucky that doctors discovered the problem with the aortic valve at his medical and flew him to America for a series of open-heart surgeries, which ruled him out for nearly a year.

The 83-cap Nigerian eventually triumphed over his infirmity and became one of the greatest players Africa ever produced.

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.

The two-time African Footballer of the Year has also spoken about why clubs should do more to monitor their players' health.

We've had people like Marc Vivien-Foé die while playing. 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.

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