Heart transplant

From life support to gold – Meet the teenage heart transplant recipient who won the British Transplant Games

“Three years ago she was on life support and now she’s won a gold medal. It’s just phenomenal.”

Those were the words of proud dad Shaun Sidney after watching his inspirational daughter win gold at the British Transplant Games.

Kayleigh Llewellyn was just 12 when her life was saved by a heart transplant at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. Young Seaham was diagnosed with a form of heart condition called cardiomyopathy in 2019 after suddenly suffering from chest pains and struggling to breathe.

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After spending weeks in intensive care, she was put on the urgent transplant list for a new heart and in November 2019 her parents Shaun Sidney and Sonia Llewellyn’s prayers were answered when a donor was found. Since then, Kayleigh has amazed doctors with her recovery and now the 14-year-old has competed alongside other transplant recipients in the British Transplant Games.

The annual event, which celebrates life, was held in Leeds from July 28-31 with transplant athletes competing in a range of sports. Kayleigh, who is on a mission to raise awareness about organ donation, won gold in Under-15 football after competing with other hospital teams from the UK and Ireland.

Kayleigh Llewellyn with mum Sonia Llewellyn at the British Transplant Games.

“It’s been an amazing four days,” dad Shaun said.

“The whole experience was just phenomenal. There were teams from hospitals all over the UK and Ireland. There were thousands of people there and it was so emotional.

“The team at Freeman Hospital were just phenomenal and the amount of medals they got was just unreal. There was a gala night at Leeds Armory [Royal Armouries Museum] and the Freeman walked away with the Best Hearts Team trophy, it was so emotional.

“Kayleigh loved it. She played seven football games and won every game, beating Ireland 3-1 in the final to win the gold medal.

“I had tears in my eyes when she won and it fills me now to think about it. Three years ago she was on life support and now she’s won a gold medal. It’s just phenomenal .”

Kayleigh Lewellyn with her Freeman Hospital teammates.
Kayleigh Lewellyn with her Freeman Hospital teammates.

Kayleigh, who dedicated her victory to her heart donor Sinead Bree, is said to be on “cloud nine” after her win. Posting to her Facebook followers, she said of the experience: “It’s crazy to look around and realize you’re not alone, but when you have your transplant you feel like to be the only person in the world.

“Thank you to all the donors and donor families who make this possible. For me, Sinead saved my life and I am forever grateful for my gift of life.”

Papa Shaun said the British Transplant Games are an inspiring way to show what is happening with organ donation.

“As parents we are so proud of Kayleigh, but know that it’s not just about her, it’s about spreading the word about organ donation and getting people to discuss,” dad Shaun said.

“It’s not a good thing to do, but if it hadn’t been done for Kayleigh, we would have lost her.”

To register as an organ donor, visit: https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/register-your-decision/donate/