A YOUNG woman who has had her life saved three times by transplant surgery has nominated a fellow student for an award in recognition of his support.

Linzi Saunders, 21, who is studying fine art, has put forward her close friend, Kevin Rudkin, for a Rate Your Mate award.

The awards aim to shine a light on hard working students who go above and beyond in their studies, life and work while at the University of Sunderland.

The 20-year-old has been a lifeline for Miss Saunders as she juggled recovering from surgery with her university work.

Miss Saunders said: “When I first met Kevin we just clicked and, for some reason, he took it upon himself to help me.

“He would carry my bags, get me my lunch, when I missed lectures he would bring me up to speed.”

Miss Saunders was diagnosed with two different complex types of leukaemia when she was 18-months-old and received pioneering treatment from medics.

It was then decided that a bone marrow transplant was needed and her brother, James, proved a perfect match.

Despite a successful transplant, the new treatment began affecting her heart and she went on to develop cardiomyopathy.

It was a condition doctors could not ignore and while still a pupil at Ryhope Junior School in Sunderland, Miss Saunders was told she would need a new heart.

While mum Michelle, 50, and dad James, 53, waited by her bedside, Linzi astounded doctors by making a speedy recovery.

Despite her fightback, Miss Saunders would go on to miss much of year four at school as she attended regular hospital appointments so specialists could keep a check on her.

Five years ago Miss Saunders developed the Norovirus which had a huge impact on her already weak kidneys.

Miss Saunders said: “I was put back on the NHS Organ Donor Register and it took a few years for everything to get sorted.

“Again, they tested members of my family to see if there was anyone who might match.”

The mother-in-law of one of Linzi’s sisters also agreed to be tested and turned out to be an ideal match.

In September 2017, Miss Saunders underwent her third transplant, again at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital. By this time she had met her friend, Kevin Rudkin.

The pair are now in their final year of their fine art programme and plan to do a masters degree after they graduate in the summer.

For the past few years, Mr Rudkin has always been there for her, supporting her, keeping her spirits up and assisting when she needed a wheelchair to get about.

Miss Saunders said: “After the kidney transplant, I had a lot of steroids and this affected my legs and my ability to walk, so Kevin’s always been there to help me get about.”

Mr Rudkin, from Hendon in Sunderland, described his friend as ‘a real inspiration’.

He added: “Even just after the surgery, she was so active.

“I knew she was poorly but she has never complained and never let it get her down.”