After walking 100 miles to promote organ donation, Belper’s World Transplant Games hero completed a circle of life as he met his own donor’s widow for the first time.
Simon Elmore, 42, and Belper’s mayor Gary Spendlove spent seven days walking across Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire to raise awareness and money for organ donation services.
The journey contained many powerful moments, as the pair met people all along the way who had given or received organs and heard their stories.
But for Simon the final stop was the most important of all, as he came face-to-face with Carol Laight and her daughter Vicky.
Simon, who received a kidney transplant from Carol’s husband John in 2015, said: “As soon as I’d had my operation there were just two thoughts at the front of my mind.
“First, I was going to compete in the World Transplant Games in Argentina; and second, that there was a family somewhere out there who had lost a loved one, and I wanted to thank them.”
As it turned out, John’s family lived just down the road in Draycott.
Simon said: “It’s amazing really. John died at the Queen’s Medical Centre, and there were transplant teams who came from all over the country - but I was just down the road at City Hospital, waiting and hoping.”
Simon and Carol had begun writing letters to one another in the months after the operation - first arranged through the hospital, then in private.
Simon said: “I don’t put pen to paper for anybody, but for Carol I could write an essay every day.
“I wanted her to always know how I was doing, how I was looking after the kidney, and what it meant to me.”
Simon fulfilled his ambition to compete in the World Transplant Games in 2015, bringing home three gold medals.
He said: “I always knew when I won that first medal that I was going to give it to Carol as way of saying thank you.”
He kept that promise on Sunday, when Simon arrived at Carol’s house after a gruelling week on the road.
Simon said: “It was the perfect way to end the week. Carol had seen everything we’d been up to along the way, so she knew just how much it meant to me.
“It was a beautiful moment, and we sat and talked for a long time.”
The father-of-three was keen to learn more about John, and how his life story fitted together.
Simon said: “Vicky had come down from Manchester especially, and she was lovely to us and very keen to learn more about my family and how grateful we all are.
“John was a very family-orientated man, and there were many things he had hoped to do when he died aged 54, which is no age at all.”
The meeting also brought to life an unlikely coincidence.
Simon said: “It turns out that John and I had both had the same job, though several years apart, working at DHL preparing flight crews for takeoff.”
He added: “Carol was amazing, she kept it together really well, but my family were in bits.
“It was really hard to think how much Carol and Vicky have lost. They are my heroes, and they’ve allowed me to become the person I want to be.”
As well as becoming a champion transplant athlete, Simon is dedicating as much time as possible to championing organ donor services.
He said: “It means the world to me. Everything I’m doing is partly for Carol and Vicky, but there are so many other lives that could be changed.
“As we were doing the 100-mile walk, I met someone’s young granddaughter. She’d just had a heart transplant, and was waiting for a kidney.”
He added: “It’s one thing for an adult to be given a second chance, but there are so many children just waiting for a normal life to start.”
Carol revealed that organ donation had always been important to John, and he had been listed as a potential donor on his driving licence since the age of 17.
Simon said: “If you’re joining the organ donor register, it’s important to have that conversation with your family. Everyone knew what John wanted.
“People think of it as a taboo subject, but I’ve been around talking to schools and even young children understand what it can achieve.”
He added: “There’s always a chance your family could be caught up in a situation like this, and so I’m trying to open doors to make it easier.
“Knowing Carol and Vicky means I can see both sides. They will always have a part of their husband and dad that’s with me, and I’m going to treasure it.”
To find out more about NHS organ donation services, and how to join the register, go to www.organdonation.nhs.uk.