In 1996, Ajax sold Kanu to Serie-A club side Inter Milan for around $4.7 million. That summer he captained the Nigeria Olympics national team that won gold at the Olympics in Atlanta, USA. He was also named African Footballer for that year. However, soon after returning from the Olympics, Kanu underwent a medical examination at Inter, which revealed a serious heart defect, and it was believed by doctors that his career was over.
He underwent successful surgery in November to replace an aortic valve, and did not return to his club until April 1997. In interviews, Kanu frequently cites his faith as a Christian and has often mentioned this trying time of his career as an occasion when he prayed to God.
Kanu’s experience also led him to the founding of Kanu Heart Foundation, an organisation that helps predominantly young African children who suffer heart defects and whose work was expanded to provide aid for homeless children in 2008.