Medical miracle ends in love
Published: August 1, 2006 | 4537th good news item since 2003
THE broad grins say it all. They’re in love… and never have two hearts been so well matched.
For Kaylee Davidson and Craig O’Neill have both had heart transplants – and it was those life-or-death operations that bought them together.
They met at the European Transplant Games in Naples this summer, where both of them picked up a clutch of medals.
The games celebrate those who owe their lives to the skills of transplant surgeons – and few have a better reason to celebrate than Kaylee and Craig.
“If it wasn’t for the Transplant Games, we’d never have met,” says 19-year-old Kaylee, who scooped three medals on the track and badminton court at this year’s tournament.
“Knowing that we’ve been through the same thing is a huge comfort and we’ve become very close very quickly.
“The Transplant Games is an amazing experience and it’s great to show off just how many lives have been saved.”
And Kaylee, more than most, is an all-running, all-jumping example of the miracle of transplants.
The part-time sales assistant from Houghton le Spring, Co Durham, was just five months old when she became Britain’s youngest heart transplant patient back in 1987.
Specialists had diagnosed a rare and aggressive viral form of heart disease called cardiomyopathy.
There was no cure, and Kaylee’s only chance was a heart transplant. It was a huge gamble for doctors at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne. Two previous attempts with babies had failed.
MIRACULOUSLY, Kaylee’s tiny body withstood I the gruelling six-hour operation and she went on to make a full recovery.
Over the years, her incredible progress has continued to astonish the experts and she’s currently Britain’s longest surviving heart transplant patient.
“I don’t tend to make a big deal of it,” says Kaylee. “It’s not like I go up to people and say: ‘Hi, my name’s Kaylee and I’ve had a heart transplant.’
“I’ve still got to take anti-rejection tablets every day, but I’ve never known anything different. I’ve always had my heart transplant.”
She’s been attending the annual British Transplant Games since the age of two, but it wasn’t until last year in Loughborough that she first met Craig, 24.
Unlike Kaylee, he’d had his transplant as a young adult, but at the same Freeman Hospital.
Craig got his new heart less than 18 months ago after spending nearly two years on a waiting list, confined to a wheelchair.
“I was born with transposition of the main arteries, but I was generally OK until the age of 18,” he says.
“That’s when it hit me, and the doctors said I needed a heart transplant as soon as possible. I was so weak and hated being in a wheelchair. I was really scared.”
After receiving the transplant he so desperately needed, Craig made an astonishingly quick recovery. Always sporty, he was soon able to walk unaided again and was eager to start enjoying life. Which is how he met Kaylee.
Both Kaylee and Craig, who works in a hardware store, had noticed each other during a gala dinner after the 2005 games, but neither had the courage to make the first move. “I knew he was looking at me, but he didn’t come over and talk so I thought maybe he wasn’t interested,” says Kaylee.
“I thought she was gorgeous,” says Craig. “She was chatting to everyone and was having a really good time. I was just too shy to do anything about it.”
It wasn’t until a year later, at the 2006 European Games in Naples that Craig, who picked up two golds for sprint and relay, finally felt able tell Kaylee exactly how strong his feelings were for her… with the help of his mum.
“I remembered him from last year,” says Kaylee. “When I saw him I was blushing because I knew I really fancied him. But he still didn’t have the guts to tell me until his mum Julie shouted for me to come over. Finally, he asked me out for a drink.”
But Kaylee’s response wasn’t exactly what Craig was expecting
“She said, ‘No thank you!'” he laughs. “I couldn’t believe it. She says now that it was because she was embarrassed, but the rejection just made me even more determined. I definitely wasn’t going to let her slip through my fingers.” That night they sat next to each other during a meal with a group of other competitors, talked all night – and later shared their first kiss.
“He made me laugh and I only wanted to be with him,” says Kaylee. “After the meal we carried on talking. I knew I was falling for him.”
Since arriving back in the UK, the lovebirds have been pretty much inseparable.
Both live at home, but 25 miles apart – Kaylee in Houghton le Spring and Craig in Billingham near Middlesbrough – but they manage to see each other every weekend and twice during the week.
When they’re not together, they’re on the phone. While neither knows quite what the future holds just yet, both Kaylee and Craig are certain they have something very special. “Every time I’m not with him I just want to scream,” says Kaylee. “But the distance doesn’t bother us at all. We know we’re stronger than that. We love each other and that’s enough. Craig’s very romantic. I’ve met all his family and friends and he wants to take me on holiday.”
Neither Kaylee nor Craig chose not to contact their donors’ families, but they remain eternally grateful to them.
And Kaylee encourages everyone to sign the donor register and to discuss their wishes openly with relatives.
“Craig and I are living proof of what donation means. I can understand why some people might feel a bit uncomfortable about it, but there’s no need to be scared.
“You are saving a life. What could be more positive than that?”