One of the world's longest living heart transplant recipients says heart disease is no longer a death sentence.

Speaking to teens that have been diagnosed with heart disease at a conference at B.C. Children's Hospital in Vancouver on Saturday, Simon Keith says those living with heart disease today face much better odds than in the past.

"These kids are going to live longer. That’s just the bottom line," he said.

"It used to be these types of diseases was almost a sentence. It's not anymore. These guys are living long times with the technology."

Keith, who was raised in Victoria, was a promising soccer star when he was diagnosed with a fatal heart disease at 21 and given only months to live.

After receiving the heart of a 17-year-old boy in 1986, Keith became the first recipient to play professional sports afterwards.

"I was going to live the life that I was destined to live no matter what."

Every day, 12 babies in Canada are born with a congenital heart defect, ranging from blocked blood flow to abnormal heart rhythms.

The majority of them go on to live regular lives thanks to huge advances in technology.

"The overall mortality, children who die as a result of their heart condition, is less than two per cent the last couple of years, which is extraordinarily good," said Dr. Derek Human, the head of cardiology at B.C. Children's Hospital.

The weekend's conference, a special program for teens called Hearts of Gold, provided a forum for kids to talk to each other about living with heart disease.

"It's a part of who I am, that's about it," said teen Jillian Wiebe. "I don't care living with a scar. It's just been part of me my whole life."

ALSO: Heart Healthy Foods:

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  • Salmon

    The American Heart Association recommends <a href="" target="_hplink">eating fish twice a week</a> -- especially fatty fish like salmon, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s can reduce the risk of arrthymias, slow plaque build up in the arteries, lower cholesterol and slightly lower blood pressure. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Jeremy Hall</a></em>

  • Olive Oil

    Switching from butter to olive oil (or even <a href="" target="_hplink">olive oil to canola oil</a>) can <a href="" target="_hplink">lower cholesterol levels</a>. The "healthy" monounsaturated fats found in olive oil are still fats however, so use in moderation. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Thomas Ricker</a></em>

  • Nuts

    A large 2011 study found that <a href="" target="_hplink">swapping nuts for red meat</a> as a leaner source of protein resulted in a 17 percent lower risk of stroke. The unsaturated fat in nuts can help reduce cholesterol in comparison to eating red meat, but nuts are still high in fat and calories, so be aware of portion sizes. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">s58y</a></em>

  • Berries

    Berries are rich in a type of antioxidant called polyphenols, which can lower blood pressure and <a href="" target="_hplink">boost "good" HDL cholesterol</a>. A 2011 study focussed on blueberries found that they contain a compound called anthocyanins (also found in other dark fruits like raspberries) that can <a href="" target="_hplink">protect against high blood pressure</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Kimberly Vardeman</a> </em>

  • Oatmeal

    The <a href="" target="_hplink">soluble fiber</a> in oatmeal (as well in other whole-grain foods, fruits and vegetables) <a href="" target="_hplink">reduces the absorption of "bad" LDL cholesterol</a> into the bloodstream, <a href=",,20307113,00.html" target="_hplink">helping to keep arteries clear</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Nate Steiner</a></em>

  • Soy

    While the <a href="" target="_hplink">cholesterol-lowering claims</a> of soy protein <a href="" target="_hplink">have been debated</a>, there's no question that it's a low-fat source of protein when compared to fattier options, like red meat. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Adriane Dizon</a></em>

  • Dark Chocolate

    Thanks to compounds called <a href="" target="_hplink">flavonoids that operate like antioxidants</a>, satisfying that sweet tooth can actually lower bad cholesterol, reduce blood pressure and prevent blood clots. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Lee McCoy</a> </em>

  • Popcorn

    When air-popped (read, not drenched in butter and smothered in salt), popcorn is actually a surprisingly <a href="" target="_hplink">good source of heart-healthy antioxidants and fiber</a>, according to a 2009 study, because it's technically a whole grain. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Joelle Nebbe-Mornod</a></em>

  • Tomatoes

    Tomatoes are the <a href="" target="_hplink">biggest source of lycopene</a> (a powerful antioxidant) in the American diet, according to a 2011 review of literature on the topic. While more research is needed still, preliminary experiments suggest that lycopene could play a role in <a href="" target="_hplink">preventing cardiovascular problems</a> due to its <a href="" target="_hplink">anti-inflammatory properties</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Dave Stokes</a></em>

  • Seaweed

    Just like their leafy, green, land-grown counterparts, seaweeds pack some impressive benefits for the heart, including <a href="" target="_hplink">antioxidants and even some good fats</a>. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Ken Hawkins</a></em>

  • Potatoes

    Sweet potatoes are packed with disease-fighting antioxidants, and both sweets and regular <a href="" target="_hplink">spuds contain fiber and potassium</a>, <a href="" target="_hplink">key in keeping your heart functioning</a> its best. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Svadilfari</a></em>

  • Coffee

    A 2011 study suggests that coffee is one of the <a href="" target="_hplink">biggest sources of antioxidants</a> in the average person's diet, and that caffeine is actually behind the heart-healthy effects of that morning (or afternoon) pick-me-up. Although more research is still needed to more clearly understand the process of how caffeine counteracts free radicals in the body, it seems to help fight heart disease, Alzheimer's and more. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Timothy Boyd</a></em>

  • Alcohol

    A 2011 review published in the "British Medical Journal" found a 14 to 25 percent <a href="" target="_hplink">drop in heart disease</a> in moderate alcohol drinkers compared to teetotalers. For years, research has flip-flopped on the healthy or not debate over alcohol. While once-heralded <a href="" target="_hplink">resveratrol might not be worth all the hype</a>, a recent Spanish study suggests it's <a href="" target="_hplink">alcohol itself that has cardiovascular benefits</a>, not just the compounds in red wine. <em>Flickr photo by <a href="" target="_hplink">Dinner Series</a></em>

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