AN athlete who can only breathe thanks to the gift of a stranger is defending his title as a double European champion in table tennis.

Mark Allen, from Widnes, received a double lung transplant in 2005 but due to rejection his lung capacity has been reduced to 20 per cent.

Yet with grit and determination the 46-year-old has now won six European golds in Lithuania, Sweden and Holland.

The keen sportsman trains in the gym every day, plays table tennis and recently started yoga.

He will be taking on top athletes at the European Heart and Lung Games in Lignano Sabbiadoro in Italy from June 11-15.

Mark, of Deirdre Avenue, said: "My target is as ever to do my best. The aim of the games is to raise awareness of transplantation and urge people to have the conversation with loved ones or they can override what you want if you pass away suddenly."

Mark was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was nine months old.

He fell ill with pneumonia while working as an English teacher in Korea in 2005.

After his condition rapidly deteriorated, his only chance of survival was a double lung transplant.

“If someone hadn’t made the decision to sign up to the organ donor register I wouldn’t be here today," said Mark, who works as a press officer at Halton Council.

“I’m a walking demonstration of just how important and amazing organ donation is. If it inspires one person to sign up, it’s worth it.

"I use the games to get publicity for what you can achieve thanks to the kindness of a stranger."

Mark plays in a band of transplant patients called Gifted Organs and tries to live as normal a life as possible.

"Obviously there are things I can't do anymore but despite the low lung capacity and cystic fibrosis related diabetes, kidney problems and gout I am often to be found at gigs and live sporting events as well as working full time," he said.

"I have to pay for all entry fees, hotels, flights and food myself and take annual leave from work so any sponsorship would be welcome."

Mark has also won silver and bronze medals in Britain and will be competing in The Westfield Health British Transplant Games in Birmingham later this summer.

Anyone wishing to offer sponsorship can email