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Winners in love.

Byline: James Johnston

Teesside heart swap survivor Craig O'Neill left the European transplant games with more than just a haul of medals.

The 24-year-old, who picked up two golds and a bronze at the competition, also found love with teenager Kaylee Davidson - Britain's first surviving heart transplant baby.

The two athletes first met in Loughborough at a meet last year, although both were too shy to approach one another.

But the pair bumped into each other again while competing with a British team in Naples and Craig plucked up the courage to introduce himself.

"I first met her at the British Transplant Games, but she was too busy talking to other people, I didn't get chance to speak to her," said Craig. "I met her again in Italy, eventually introduced myself, and we hit it off. We really connected. I've met her family and things are going great."

Just 18 months ago shop worker Craig went through a life-saving transplant at Newcastle upon Tyne's pioneering Freeman Hospital, where Kaylee had her operation in 1987, aged six months.

Mum Julie and dad Martin, both 48, and brother Tony, 26, anxiously waited as surgeons spent nearly eight hours carrying out the vital op.

But last month, after an incredible recovery and four months of intensive training, he collected two golds in the men's 100 metres and 100 metres relay and a bronze for cricket ball throwing.

Craig, of Appleby Road, Billingham, said: "At the time of the operation my life was pretty much hanging by a thread. It took 20 months to find a suitable donor. I don't know who it was but I'll be grateful to them for the rest of my life. I owe them so much."

Shop worker Kaylee, 19, of Houghton-le-Spring, near Sunderland, picked up three bronze medals, for badminton doubles, 100 metres and 100 metres relay at the games. She said she has high hopes for the couple's romantic future.

"I came back from the opening ceremony in Naples and there he was," she said.

"I thought he was gorgeous and thankfully he felt the same way about me. It's only been two weeks and we are taking things very slowly, but I think there's something big between us. There's definitely something there and I think there always will be as well."

* National Transplant Week starts on July 9 and organ donors are urged to contact 0845 6060400.
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Title Annotation:News Local
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Jul 4, 2006
Words:401
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