Cystic fibrosis sufferer Richard Caulkin had two weeks to live – today he is going for gold at the European Heart and Lung Transplant Games

RICHARD Caulkin spent three years on the transplant list – and was close to dying – before receiving a donor set of lungs and the chance of a new life.

"The last year on the waiting list was particularly bad," he said. "My lungs were working at just four per cent and I was on a ventilator 20 hours a day to help me breathe. I was in bed for a year. It was no life at all. I was just trying to stay alive."

That was nine years ago. Today, Richard, aged 37, is representing Britain in the European Heart and Lung Transplant Games in Italy, where he is aiming for medal glory.

Over the next four days he plans to compete in a range of running and cycling events – hoping to add to his medal haul won at a mix of European and British transplant games since his operation.

He will be one of a team of 40 representing Great Britain, competing against 22 other countries.

Cheering him on from the sides will be his dad Derek – who helped him transport his kit and bike to Lignano in Italy for the competition.

Wife Wendy, 38, should have been taking part too. She received a donor heart and is also a transplant games medal winner – but had to miss out this time round because she is taking GCSEs.

"She wants to do an access course and go into nursing," says Richard. "This is something she has wanted to do since having the transplant."

The couple met at the British Transplant Games at Sheffield in 2013, and married three years later. Both will be taking part in the next British games, in Birmingham, in August.

And they are keen to raise awareness of the donor register and hope their stories will inspire more people to sign up.

Latest figures show around 6,500 people across the UK are waiting for an organ transplant. Three people a day die in need of a transplant due to a shortage of people willing to donate organs.

Richard and Wendy, who live in York, say some of their friends have died while on the waiting list, while another died following a heart transplant simply because they had waited too long for the operation and their body was too weak to recover.

For Richard, doctors estimated he would have died within a fortnight without his transplant. Surgery came at the tenth call-up from medics in Newcastle, where his ten-hour operation finally took place – the other nine were false alarms.

At the age of three, Richard was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that affects mostly the lungs, but also the pancreas, liver, kidneys, and intestine. The condition is life-limiting – according to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, the median predicted survival for someone with the disease is 47 years old.

Despite the condition, Richard was a well child and teenager, and played rugby. But in his final year at university, he contracted a chest infection which seriously impaired his lung function, requiring him to have a double lung transplant at the age of 29.

During the three years on the waiting list, he studied for his PhD in chemical engineering. "It helped keep me focussed," he said.

He felt the effects of the transplant immediately. He remembers waking up after surgery and realising the terrible crushing sensation in his chest had lifted. "It was unbelievable. For so long I felt like there was an iron belt across my chest. It was so restrictive and amazing for that to go."

He learned about the transplant games in hospital and doctors and nurses persuaded him to get active. "They encourage you to do so much. That's why the games were set up in the first place: to give people motivation and to get them out training."

Richard started slowly – just using an exercise bike and going for a walk. Then he got fitter, joined an athletics club, and set himself a goal: to take part in the transplant games, which he did, just two years after his surgery.

Now he is a veteran of the events, which take place annually in the UK and every two years in Europe.

Despite some health setbacks in 2016-2017, which resulted in surgery to his intestines (a complication from his cystic fibrosis) and the removal of a kidney (damaged from the medications he takes daily), Richard says he is fitter than ever.

He is hoping for a good result in the cross-country event today. "I am back to where I was – and probably a little bit fitter. I am running four kilometres in 18 minutes."

Richard says there are several reasons why he likes taking part in the games. "It's good to raise awareness of organ donation and encourage people to sign up. There are people waiting for transplants who are dying needlessly.

"Try to put yourself in that position: if you needed an organ transplant, would you accept one?

"Everyone who has a transplant always honours the donor. At the games, the families of donors attend, and they always get a standing ovation."

Richard stresses too that if you wish to be a donor, besides signing the register, you should tell your family your wishes.

To find out more and sign the register today, visit or telephone 0300 123 23 23.