A 63-year-old man sat in the lounge of a rehabilitation center, with his team of hospice nurses draped behind him, and within a matter of seconds, he shifted the conversation to his fandom of Sporting Kansas City. His nurses says he does this a lot.
Three months ago, Thephayonh “Lee” Promsenmuong suffered heart failure and says doctors used a defibrillator to revive him. His body felt nearly paralyzed, he explained Thursday, and after a lengthy hospital visit, he transferred to the Rehabilitation Center of Independence for long-term care.
It was there that nurses approached him about a wish — one he recognizes could be his last. His answer was instantaneous: Sporting KC tickets.
They arrived Thursday with a special guest — Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi.
Lee saw him coming.
“Zusi!” he shouted.
Zusi appeared with a Sporting Kansas City home jersey, which Lee donned almost immediately. Lee’s name — and Zusi’s number — were printed across the back.
“It’s real,” Lee said. “My dream come true.”
Lee moved to the United States from Thailand in 1980. He had played soccer for most of his childhood, so when Kansas City added a professional franchise, he was on board. He was a regular attendee at Arrowhead Stadium for Wizards games and followed the team through its rebrand to Sporting KC.
When the club drafted Zusi in 2009, Lee soon thereafter had a new preferred player. “He’s so smart on the field,” Lee said.
Zusi and Lee ate lunch together on Thursday, a 30-minute conversation over pizza and cake that encompassed games past and present.
While Lee demonstrates that his body has seen better days, his soccer memories spring to life without failure. He wanted details on Zusi’s appearance in the 2014 FIFA World Cup and his trip to the White House to celebrate the 2013 MLS championship. (And his acting in those Minksy's commercials.)
The recollections impressed Zusi, who became emotional when asked about the meeting. “To have someone so dedicated to us, it’s easy to return the favor,” Zusi said, later adding, “It reminds us that soccer is a game.”
The free tickets ensures Lee a spot inside Children’s Mercy Park on March 12 for Sporting Kansas City’s home opener. Lee had the game time memorized before seeing the four tickets. He plans to take a few hospice nurses with him.
He’s feeling better lately, he says, and the movement in his arms and legs is nearly 80 percent recovered. The hope is to eventually return home, though that date isn’t scheduled in the immediate future.
For now, he calls himself fortunate to have survived. And to have met his favorite player.
“I don't know when my time (will) come,” he said. “But I feel young inside today.”