CRAIG Wimpenny was a clean-living sporting man until a heart condition left him days from death.
It left him needing a heart transplant, but now the Linthwaite man is on his way to making a full recovery – thanks to the kindness of a person he never met.
The 43-year-old is now urging people in Huddersfield to sign up as organ donors to give other patients a chance of survival.
And his comments come as ethical organisation the Nuffield Council on Bioethics has proposed that if the health service pays for the funerals of organ donors it might help boost the number of life-saving transplant operations.
“Everyone will take an organ but not enough people will give one,” he said.
“The more people get on to the donors’ register the better. You could save someone’s life after your death.”
Craig was a fit and healthy man before he started feeling ill last December.
He said: “I used to go to the Wharfeside Workout gym in Slaithwaite three times a week and I played five-a-side every week at Colne Valley High. I don’t smoke and I hardly drink.
“I started with a cough on December 5 and it got worse until I went to the doctor. I ended up in hospital in Halifax for six weeks.
“I couldn’t eat or drink and I lost two stones in weight. They couldn’t do anything for me.”
Craig was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy virus – a condition which tends to affect young, fit people.
He was taken to South Manchester Wythenshawe Hospital where he and 10 other gravely-ill patients waited for his transplant.
“Every day could have been his last,” said his wife Dawn, 43.
“You could see he was dying in front of my eyes. The weight was falling off him and the colour was going.”
Just after midnight on March 7 she got a call from the hospital.
Dawn said: “Because Craig was so ill, I thought the phone call was to tell me he had died.
“Instead, they told me they had found a possible match. The adrenaline kicked in. I don’t even remember driving over to Wythenshawe.”
Dawn and son Jordan, then 18, were with Craig just before he went into surgery at 7am.
“I gave him a kiss and a cuddle and told him we would see him on the other side,” she said.
After five-and-a-half hours in surgery, Craig began the slow process of getting used to his new heart.
“I woke up in intensive care feeling groggy,” he said. “Within a few hours the physio came to see me. Eventually you come off the drips and start to feel better.”
But Craig knew that two of his fellow patients at Wythenshawe were still waiting for heart transplants.
“There was a man called Ben Knight from Ribblesdale who was only 25. I went to talk to him after my operation to let him know what happens.
“Ben got his transplant but there was another man on the ward called Paul who didn’t get a transplant and died.
“The three of us were all waiting at the same time, but we were different blood groups.”
After leaving hospital, the family moved from their home in Golcar to Titanic Mill in Linthwaite because Craig could no longer manage the stairs.
But he is slowly getting his strength back.
“I do a lot of walking to keep my fitness up,” he said.
“In another six months I will be back to full health.
“I hope to play football again next season. I’m also planning to do the Manchester 10k run next year.”
Craig, who worked as an asbestos-remover for Kirklees Council, also hopes to return to work.
“The council have been very good to me and they’re trying to find me a new position.”
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics says the health service should consider starting a pilot scheme to gauge public opinion about possibly meeting the funeral expenses for those who sign the organ donor register.
Under the proposed scheme, payment would only be offered if someone who has signed the register dies in circumstances where their organs could be donated to others.
The independent body said there are 8,000 people in the UK on the waiting list for an organ transplant waiting an average of three years for a suitable donor to become available.
The council said three people die every day while waiting for an organ and paying for funerals of donors could be an ethical way of encouraging more people to sign the register.
For more information about organ donation visit www.uktransplant.org.uk/ukt/default.jsp