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Living with a new heart, fan says Chiefs have given her a second life

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CENTERVIEW, Mo. -- Hearts will race this weekend in Chiefs Kingdom.

The Kansas City Chiefs, fresh off their NFL Wildcard win over the Houston Texans, continue their playoff run. The Chiefs, winners of 11 consecutive games, will meet the New England Patriots on Saturday afternoon.

One fan living in Johnson County, Mo., says Chiefs Nation has given her a second life.

Every moment at Arrowhead Stadium is special to Karen Simmons. So is every beat of her heart.

Simmons can tell you every memory she has of her 30 years attending home games at Arrowhead. She can share a lifetime of keepsakes and photographs gathered during her time as a fan. She also professes that, at times, being part of Chiefs Kingdom gave her a reason to carry on living.

In September 2009, doctors found Simmons to have congestive heart failure. Her symptoms originally resembled asthma or emphysema. When medical workers realized how severe her cardiac case was, they arranged for her to receive a new heart within nine days.

“I was getting to where I couldn't breathe,” Simmons said. “My heart efficiency dropped from 18 to 13, which moved me right to the top of the transplant list.”

Simmons says a weakened immune system came along with the new heart, and for an NFL football fanatic, being unable to sit during games with bad weather became impossible. That includes games in 2015, when multiple games were scourged by rain, high winds and cold temperatures.

“There's no way I'll be able to sit out in this,” Simmons told FOX 4 News. “My immune system is already shot. I can get pneumonia if someone sneezes on me.”

Earlier this season, Karen's family talked with Arrowhead Stadium fan representatives, who arranged for her to move from her seats in an upper deck, to a covered section out of the elements. Simmons says she was overjoyed by her drier, warmer surroundings in the stadium’s section designated for fans with disabilities.

“They don't have to do that,” Lacey Bachman, Simmons’ daughter, said. “When she told me we could do that, I was like, 'What?' It wasn't like they made you jump through hoops or anything. They care about their fans.”

Simmons, 55, is a native of Floyd County, Ky., but has lived outside Warrensburg, Mo., for more than three decades. She points to her football idol, Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who returned to play roughly a year after being diagnosed with a form of cancer, as a rallying point for Chiefs fans who battle sickness or a disability.

“I think they're more aware of the life-and-death situations with people. You have fans with all kinds of disabilities going there,” Simmons said.

Simmons says her love for the Chiefs, which dates back to the mid-1980’s, has helped her adapt to the new heart. Home games at the Truman Sports Complex are an occasion built on love for this family. Karen says they've given her another reason to carry on, adding to the support she receives from her family.

“They kind of give me a second life,” Simmons said. “I've had a second chance with the heart, and the Chiefs have given me a second life. They give me something to look forward to every fall.”

Simmons says it’s also given her more chances to win the game of life. She says, by and large, she feels fine, and meets with her cardiologist every six months. Her heart rate will climb this Saturday afternoon, when the Chiefs meet up with New England for a trip to the AFC Championship Game.