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Last Updated: Monday, 25 September 2006, 10:51 GMT 11:51 UK
Striker Kanu's ultimate goal
By Julian Shea

Nwankwo Kanu
Striker Kanu pictured with some of the children his charity has helped
To quote of one of sport's most well-used phrases, football is not a matter of life and death - it is more important than that.

But for Portsmouth's Nigerian international striker Kanu, that is not a cliche - it sums up one of the most important parts of his life.

A decade ago, his career was almost over before it began, when he was diagnosed with a faulty heart valve.

Surgery gave him a second chance and inspired him to use his fame to save lives by setting up the Kanu Heart Foundation.

In the past year, the Foundation has arranged treatment for 250 African children with heart problems and, over the next 12 months, it hopes to help 1,000 more.

On Saturday 30 September, the Foundation marks its fifth anniversary and Nigerian Independence Day with a fundraising event in London.

If you have kids who are about to die, you have to use the money to help them and get them operated on

"The aim is to help less privileged children by building hospitals, not just in Nigeria, but also trying to spread to Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa and the rest of Africa," the 30-year-old told BBC Sport.

Despite the Foundation's success, no hospitals have yet been built, with the money instead being spent on sending children abroad for treatment.

"We would like to build hospitals rather than send them abroad because it is much easier to treat them in Africa," he revealed.

606 VIEW
Julian, BBC Sport

"But we have a big waiting list, so when we raise funds, we do not usually keep them because people on the waiting list may die."

In a career that has taken in clubs such as Ajax, Inter Milan and Arsenal, Kanu has become one of Africa's most famous and high-profile sportsmen.

By the age of 20, he had already won an Olympic gold medal with Nigeria and the Champions League with Ajax.

In the summer of 1996 he joined Inter Milan but after the deal had gone through, a routine medical revealed a faulty aortic valve in his heart.

"I had played pre-season games for Inter but no first team games yet," he stated.

"It was just a normal check-up that found it - it was a shock because during the Olympics, even though it had been really hot, I did not have a problem.

"At the time it was a big story - whether or not I would play again.

"When I heard the news, I spoke to other doctors to see if it was true but they all advised me to get it seen to when I was young - if I did it then, I could carry on playing football."

After a year out, he returned to action for Inter and in February 1999 joined Arsenal for 4.2m.

Kanu and Fifa chief Sepp Blatter
Kanu has twice been named African footballer of the year

In the next five years at Highbury, Kanu picked up two FA Cup-winning medals, was involved in two Premiership title triumphs, won the African Footballer of the Year crown for the second time and also set up the Foundation.

"Even if you save one life, that is a lot, so to do 250 in a year - that means more than winning trophies," he said.

In the summer of 2004 Kanu left Arsenal to join West Brom, where he spent two years before moving to Portsmouth this summer.

But the fact he was invited back to play in Arsenal's first game at their new Emirates Stadium - Dennis Bergkamp's testimonial in July - shows how many friends Kanu has made wherever he has been in his career.

On 30 September, those friends will be out in force to help him raise funds for the Foundation.

"When I was at Arsenal, the manager Arsene Wenger became a patron and Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira are trustees," he said.

Nwankwo Kanu
Kanu's charity exists specifically to help children

"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."

Money raised on the night will be spent as soon as is necessary on whatever is needed to help the Foundation save lives.

"If we got the money tomorrow to build the hospital, then that is what we would do but if you have kids who are about to die, you have to use the money to help them and get them operated on."

In the past, the Foundation sent patients to England and Israel for surgery but, with operations in England costing up to 15,000, patients are currently only sent to India, where costs are lower.

"Even if I stop playing football I will always be involved in the foundation," he revealed.

"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."

More information on the fundraising event is available from the Kanu Heart Foundation on 020 8900 5624

SEE ALSO
Kanu rejected Europe for Redknapp
19 Sep 06 |  Portsmouth
Portsmouth complete Kanu signing
17 Aug 06 |  Portsmouth
Robson doubtful over Kanu future
31 May 06 |  West Bromwich Albion
Kanu's Nations Cup chances fading
13 Jan 06 |  West Bromwich Albion
Kanu gets Unicef job
27 Jun 05 |  African
Ajax want Kanu
27 Nov 04 |  African
Kanu released by Gunners
12 Jun 04 |  Arsenal


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