Disability News

How Kirsty Howard helped save Francis House Children's Hospice

Kirsty Howard
Image caption Kirsty Howard helped raise more than £7.5m for a Manchester children's hospice

Despite being given just weeks to live at the age of four, Kirsty Howard spent the next 16 years raising millions for the children's hospice which became her second home. It not only changed her life, but the lives of countless children across the north west of England.

While she will be remembered by most as the young girl who presented the Queen with the baton at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Commonwealth Games with David Beckham at her side, Kirsty Howard spent years laying the groundwork for a lasting legacy.

As the face of Francis House Children's Hospice in Manchester, she helped raised £7.5m - securing its future and going on to help turn it into a state-of-the-art centre.

At the age of three, she became its mascot; part of a plan formulated in 2002 to raise £5m to cover the running costs. But the way she captured the hearts of celebrities saw the youngster catapult the charity created around her cheeky smile to a global audience willing to part with their cash.

Within four years, the Kirsty Appeal, as it was then known, met its target and saved the hospice from financial doubt.

Kirsty HowardImage copyright The Kirsty Club
Image caption Kirsty wasn't expected to live beyond her fourth birthday but defied the odds and celebrated her 20th birthday last month

"In 2002, there was only enough money to keep the place open for three months," said Phil Taylor, director of the charity, which is now called The Kirsty Club.

"We were trying to think of a campaign that would get the public's attention and we asked Kirsty's parents if she could be our figurehead.

"She had been given six weeks to live, so we had an early fourth birthday party for her and she managed to get to her birthday and then we were blessed with the next 16 years.

"The appeal secured [the hospice] and her legacy is that many more children will be able to use the facility and the care that Francis House gives."

Kirsty was the only British child - and one of only two worldwide - born with a back-to-front heart, a condition which also caused the misplacement of her internal organs.

On a day-to-day basis, she required a constant oxygen supply but despite this, attended almost all of the fundraising activities and events in aid of the hospice.

"As long as she wasn't feeling unwell or in the hospice, she would go to all of them," said Mr Taylor.

"She loved it, the dressing up and being the centre of attention.

"I don't think she had a concept of how much she raised. As long as she got some make-up and a Chinese takeaway out of it, she loved it."

Kirsty HowardImage copyright The Kirsty Club
Image caption Kirsty was one of only two people in the world born with a back-to-front heart

In addition to helping secure the future of the Parrs Wood Road Hospice, about £3m of the money raised was used to build an extension.

Francis Lodge, which opened last year, caters for teenagers and young adults and boasts a cinema and recording studio in addition to bedrooms and communal areas.

Together with Francis House, more than 1,200 youngsters stay there each year.

"Kirsty was a big visitor to the hospice because she wanted to be there," said Mr Taylor.

"If there was availability, the staff would call her and she would go in. No-one disliked her, she was a wonderful woman.

"[Her parents] are very proud of her, they think [what she's done is a] marvellous achievement."

Kirsty Howard and familyImage copyright The Kirsty Club
Image caption The Kirsty Club director, Phil Taylor, said Kirsty's family were very proud of her achievements

Tributes have poured in for Manchester-born Kirsty who died on Saturday, including those from Beckham, Prime Minister David Cameron and opera singer Russell Watson.

Mr Taylor said condolences had been sent from all over the world, including Europe, America and Australia.

"Although it was a little, localised charity, because Kirsty was the face of it, it made it not just national but international," he said.

"People have asked her who her favourite celebrity was and she never answered. But Mohamed Al-Fayed has been her biggest supporter and she called him Uncle Mo.

"She loved him and he's devastated."

Kirsty HowardImage copyright The Kirsty Club
Image caption Tributes have poured in to the youngster from all over the world

Kirsty defied medical odds a number of times thanks to medical advancements, but lost her battle with the illness just a month after her 20th birthday.

A party will be held next year in her memory, on what would have been her 21st birthday.

"We were sitting there and hoping things would improve, and her stats were getting more normal so we were thinking, 'Come on Kirsty, sit up'," said Mr Taylor.

"But it wasn't to be this time and she passed away, which is devastating."

David Beckham, Kirsty Howard and the QueenImage copyright PA
Image caption Kirsty attracted worldwide attention when she joined David Beckham and the Queen at the launch of the 2002 Commonwealth Games

Mr Taylor said people have pledged further donations of about £3,000 since Kirsty's death was announced and was confident people would continue to support the charity.

He said there were two things which have always inspired people to give to the cause.

"That's easy," he said. "Her beauty and her smile."


From  BBC