Heart transplant

Honey, you stole my new heart! A transplant couple are set to wed after meeting at a sporting event

As far as romance goes, it might sound rather conventional – she changed her mind and now he can breathe easy.

But the road to romance for Emma Hilton and Craig Jones is anything but ordinary.

Because the couple met through something in common – life-saving organ transplants.

Miss Hilton, 32, received a new heart aged 12, while bathroom fitter Mr Jones received a pair of donor lungs in 2017 following an infection suspected that left him in a coma.

The volleyball players met at the British Transplant Games in 2018 and Mr Jones, 27, proposed last November.

Miss Hilton – who is also a cancer survivor – said: ‘When we met we understood what the other had been through and now we are getting married.

“It’s a great end to our transplant journeys.”

The couple, from Leeds, plan to wed in June next year.

Emma Hilton and Craig Jones from Leeds who met and fell in love at the European Transplant Games in 2018

Miss Hilton added: “Craig and I have been through a lot. I also battled cancer from my heart transplant, and Craig spent three weeks in a coma. So having both come out on the other side is amazing.

Miss Hilton was diagnosed with a condition called dilated cardiomyopathy – a disease of the heart muscle which means blood cannot be pumped through the body as efficiently as a healthy heart.

It was triggered by a cold virus she had just weeks before, and she was on life support for nine days as doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital raced to find her a new heart.

She said: “It all happened so fast. I was put on the urgent list and luckily a heart was found for me nine days later.

The transplant was a success, but at the age of 21 Miss Hilton was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma – a cancer of the blood – as a complication of the transplant.

She said: ‘I was so shocked I was crying when I was diagnosed. I drove home from the hospital and straight to my parents where I had to tell them I had cancer.

Miss Hilton had 12 months of chemotherapy treatment which ended in April 2012, and since then she has recently been given the green light.

She then attended a volleyball event of the UK Transplant Games in 2018 and a month later competed in the European Heart and Lung Transplant Games in Italy.

It was there that she met 27-year-old Craig Jones, who had undergone a life-saving lung transplant. Mr Jones worked as a bathroom fitter nine years prior and contracted a suspected bacterial infection while installing an outhouse at a restaurant which fatally damaged his lungs.

He said: “I was fit and healthy before that. But then I developed an infection in my lungs after installing this toilet, which then led to pneumonia.

Mr Jones spent 62 days in the intensive care unit at St James’s Hospital in Leeds – including three weeks in a coma on life support. He recovered, but only has 15% lung function left, which then fell to just 9% over the next few years.

He said: “It was such a shock when the doctors finally told me I needed a lung transplant, but I was really struggling to breathe.” Doctors managed to find him a new pair of lungs and he underwent his transplant in May 2017 after being on the transplant list for six weeks.

The pair first met briefly at the volleyball tournament and then got to know each other better at the event in Italy.

Miss Hilton said: “We were both competing in the volleyball event, so we were on the same team, and we were two of the youngest competitors there. We had remembered the previous volleyball event and started talking.

“We got on really well, and [swapped] telephone numbers. At the end of the week-long event, we decided we wanted to be a couple.

“I worked in London and Craig lived in Leeds, so for a while we traveled across the country to see each other. When the lockdown first hit, we decided I would move to Leeds and work from Craig’s house, so we locked in together. We spent so much time together and I never went back to London.

In November, while on a trip to the Lake District, Mr Jones popped the question after the pair climbed a mountain near Ullswater.

Miss Hilton said: ‘It was a complete surprise. I made it to the top and Craig had said on the way up that he was nervous. I thought it was nervous about going up the mountain! But when we got to the top he got down on his knees and asked me to marry him. It was a very special moment.