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Thursday, 28 June 2012

Football's Philanthropists #2 | Nwankwo Kanu

Kanu completing his famous hat trick at Stamford Bridge
The next installment of my series is a player Arsenal fans will be very familiar with, especially our many fervent Nigerian Gooners! Nwankwo Kanu, like Clarence Seedorf, has experienced an illustrious playing career spanning over 20 years, and is recognized internationally as a philanthropist, or in Nigeria, as a deity.

His honours include a UEFA Cup, a Champions League, three FA Cups and two Premier League medals, among others. Not to mention being named Africa's Best Player on two occasions. Not many can say the same.

At the tender age of twenty, Kanu had already won an Olympic gold medal with Nigeria and a Champions League with Ajax, who famously defeated AC Milan in the 1995 final. However a move to Inter the following year would reveal something that brushed all such honors into mere insignificance.

Kanu's medical at the Milan club showed he had a serious heart defect, and the future of his career was shrouded with uncertainty. He underwent surgery and thankfully returned to action a year later. It was this experience that inspired the establishment of the Kanu Heart Foundation in 2000.

Nigeria's infrastructure in the health sector is, by all accounts, under-resourced. The World Health Organisation reported that the country has one of the worst infant mortality rates in the world, and, combined with its high maternal mortality rate, is beleagured with preventable deaths.

As the name implies, The Kanu Heart Foundation aims to provide the necessary medical care for Nigerian people with heart deficiencies and eventually, other African populations.

Kanu with some of the children his charity has helped
To date, the charity has handled over 450 cases with an astonishing 98% success rate, which highlights my aforementioned point that so many deaths in this country are preventable.

In most cases, the patients are sent abroad to countries such as India and Israel, as the medical facilities in Nigeria are not of the required standard. However the charity are unable to handle this financial burden, with Kanu stating that sending one child overseas for treatment costs up to five times more than it would be domestically. The foundation has spent over 4.2 million dollars thus far.

Recently Kanu has revealed a plan to build a medical centre in Nigeria, partly as an attempt to ease the financial strain of sending patients abroad. However, this project on its own will cost the charity up to one million dollars - and that's just the start up costs. As they expand - which Kanu aims to do - new land and expertise will have to be resourced and this in itself is a difficult task.

Fundraising events have been a major source of capital for the foundation. For example, six years ago Kanu hosted an event which players from a large variety of teams attended, and donated. Forget rivalry.
"A lot of people helped me at Arsenal, and they have stayed involved - we also have players from Chelsea, Tottenham, West Ham and other clubs coming along to the evening and other Nigerian players" - Kanu
Kanu expects the centre to perform at least 250 open-heart surgeries annually and offer free treatment to children under 12 years, whilst subsidising the cost of treatment for adults.
"Even if you save one life, that is a lot, so to do 250 in a year - that means more than winning trophies" - Kanu
Bill Shankley once said that football means more than life or death. It clearly doesn't. After Fabrice Muamba collapsed whilst playing at White Hart Lane, rivalry was forgotten. Football seemed irrelevant. And, in Kanu's eyes, that is the case when it comes to the heart foundation.
"The experience I went through with my operation makes you a stronger person - I have seen a lot. It takes away all the pressures on you. You realise there is a lot more to life than football" - Kanu
I think this article pretty much encapsulates the work this great man has done and continues to do. For the Nigerian Gooners reading this, I encourage you to share your thoughts + insight in the comments section below - I look forward to hearing from you!

I'll part with a final quote from Kanu and provide you with your daily dose of inspiration!
“I have won a lot of trophies and medals in football. Till this day, the best trophy I have won and cherished more has been saving souls through the Kanu Nwankwo Heart Foundation. Whatever we do in trying to save a life will not be forgotten and I urge Nigerians to key into this effort of ours to save the numerous souls who are suffering from heart-related problems”
Thanks for reading and if you enjoyed, follow me on Twitter @rlewisafc. Up The Arse!

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