A man has given his girlfriend the ultimate gift - a kidney he donated to help save her life.
Steve Hardwick, 39, from Malvern, Worcestershire, agreed to go under the knife to donate his kidney after his partner Angie Wakefield was given a race against time to find a donor.
Wakefield, also 39, was in need of a transplant following years of living with lupus disease, which left her with kidney failure and requiring dialysis treatment.
Hardwick decided to see if he was a suitable donor and the couple were left shocked when he proved to be a match.
The mum-of-one has now been given a second chance at life after undergoing the transplant operation at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital last month.
Describing her partner Steve as her "hero" after he gave her the "best present anyone could give", the couple now plan to get married.
“I owe him my life," the finance assistant explains. "Without him I would have been waiting on the organ donor waiting list for at least six years.
"He has given me a new chance at life and I am forever happily in his debt."
Wakefield was first diagnosed with lupus, an autoimmune disease in which the body's natural defence system attacks healthy parts of your body, aged just 19.
Following her diagnosis, she was given rounds of chemotherapy to reduce the impact of the disease and her kidney was restored to a 50% functioning rate.
However, over the last 20 years the functioning of her kidney steadily declined and last year it deteriorated to just 7%.
In September last year, Wakefield had a tube inserted into her stomach and was put on a dialysis for a year to help her kidney function.
“At 50% functioning I was okay, it just made me very sleepy," she explains. “I have always struggled with tiredness but I was able to work, go out and have fun and enjoy life with my son.
"But after the birth of my son over 10 years ago, I lost some percentage and it just kept getting lower. My kidneys were diseased and scarred from all the lupus attacks. When it got down to 20% about two years ago, my percentage began to drop fast."
Having first met at primary school Wakefield and Hardwick, also went to the same secondary school, but only began dating three years ago.
Hardwick, a double glazing fitter and dad-of-three decided to ask Wakefield out after they bumped into each other in the gym.
"When we began dating he said then he would look into donating if I was to need it in the future," Wakefield says.
Staying true to his word Hardwick telephoned the transplant coordination team at Birmingham Queen Elizabeth hospital back in January.
“After a blood tests, he was found to be the perfect match," Wakefield explains. "When the doctors found out, they said we were very lucky as it's unusual for non-relations to be a match.
"I never thought he would be a match, I was so shocked when they said he was."
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Before the transplant could go ahead Hardwick had to go through lots of tests to make sure he was fit and healthy.
"Before the operation, Steve decided he wanted to get as fit as possible," Wakefield explains.
"Even though he was already fit he started biking up the Malvern Hills every day and lifting weights. He wanted to do everything to ensure he was at peak fitness for the operation."
The couple underwent the three hour operation on October 13, with Hardwick being discharged from hospital after two days while Wakefield spent a week recovering.
"It has already transformed my life," she says of life following the transplant. "I already feel wonderful.
“Before the operation, I was not living, I was just existing. I would go to work and then come home and sleep because I was always so exhausted. My mouth always tasted metallic because of the toxins in my body, so it put me off food."
Now Wakefield says she gets excited about the little things she can now do like having a bath.
"I had a tube in my stomach so I couldn’t get it wet before and this has now been removed," she explains. "Before, I didn't want to do anything - now I'm painting, drawing, doing all the creative things I couldn't do."
Following her transplant Wakefield is now looking forward to life with Hardwick and her family.
"I can finally look forward to the future," she says. "All I can say is that if anyone is thinking about becoming an organ donor, just do it. It could save a life."
Speaking about the decision to donate his kidney Hardwick says: "I have watched Angie struggle every day. "I needed to do something, I couldn’t see the love of my life this way anymore."
And Hardwick says he feels "so happy" seeing how well his partner is doing post-transplant. "I look at her and she looks amazing and so healthy," he says. "I can’t wait to see what our future holds."
Additional reporting SWNS.