Former Super Eagles captain Nwankwo Kanu and his wife, Amara, have recounted how difficult a period it was for the couple when the two-time African Footballer of the Year winner in 1996 and 1999 had a second operation on his heart in 2014.
Kanu was first diagnosed with a weak heart valve and required an operation in the United States of America in 1997.
The corrective heart surgery on Kanu in 2014 was carried out at the same hospital that handled it in 1997, the Cleveland Hospital, Ohio, USA.
Kanu and his wife, Amara, are gearing up for the launch of her book on healthy living on Friday at the Emirates Stadium, titled Healthy Living With Amara.
“His (Kanu) heartbeat sounded much louder than normal. I was listening to his chest and it sounded odd,” Amara told www. mirror. co.uk on Monday.
"It was the same faulty valve. It was like a ticking time bomb. It’s just one of those things we were lucky to find out.
“Our youngest child was just three at the time. It was very hard. We broke it to them little by little. I said, ‘Daddy will be OK. He’s in good hands’.
“If I didn’t have positive thinking my life would have been in tatters,” Amara admitted of her husband's difficult times with the defect.
Kanu corroborated his wife saying:
"She was saying I should go for a check-up so I took her advice.
“Anything to do with heart operations is major. You don’t pray to be in that situation.
"The heart is the most important machine in the body and when it goes off it’s finished.”
"At first, I wasn’t the same guy. I had to gradually come back to life and it was very painful.
“The children were waiting for us when we got back. They wanted to jump on me but they had to take it easy.”
Amara quipped: “From lying down to sitting was a big deal. He had to learn to walk again.
“Kanu’s heart doctor said to me, ‘What’s the routine you have been using with Kanu all these years for him to play football and win all his medals, the FA Cup and everything?
“So I just said healthy eating, exercise and listening to your body. I wanted to use all my knowledge to help other people.”
Kanu’s first open-heart operation was a routine medical examination at Inter Milan revealed the serious heart defect after the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where he captained the Nigerian U-23 Eagles to a historic gold medal finish in the football tournament of that year's Games.
Kanu literally confessed his whole new experience with the health condition: “Now I know that being fit and strong doesn’t make your heart 100%.”
Kanu recovered after a year and returned to Inter Milan, before being signed by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger in 1999.
In 2000, Kanu established The Kanu Heart Foundation to help underprivileged children across Africa with heart problems.
The KHF has helped save the lives of children needing urgent heart operations and the couple’s next ambition is to open a new hospital in Nigeria.
Aside Kanu, Friday's book launch is dedicated to other sports stars who suffered heart problems in the past, including Fabrice Muamba and late former Newcastle United player Cheick Tioté.
“I played against Fabrice and I met him in Nigeria when he came to visit after the incident. He’s still alive so we thank God for that, but other ones are not here any more like Tioté.
“Players are dying on the pitch and I don’t think it’s being taken seriously enough. The football clubs have to impose strict checks on the players," Papilo advocates.