Manchester fundraiser Kirsty Howard dies aged 20

Kirsty Howard
Image caption Kirsty Howard was originally not expected to live past her fourth birthday

A girl born with a rare heart defect and given just weeks to live at the age of four has died, aged 20.

Kirsty Howard attracted world attention when she joined David Beckham in launching the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002.

Throughout her life, Kirsty, from Wythenshawe, Manchester, raised more than £7.5m for Manchester's Francis House Children's Hospice.

She died in hospital early on Saturday with her family beside her.

Kirsty was the only British child - and one of only two worldwide - born with a back-to-front heart.

Her parents along with sisters Zoe and Kim were at Kirsty's bedside at Manchester Royal Infirmary, said a spokesman from the Kirsty Club, a charity founded by the youngster.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionKirsty Howard joined David Beckham at the launch of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester

Her fundraising efforts won the support of prime ministers, pop stars and Hollywood actors as she continued to defy medical odds.

She also overcame her illness to study childcare at college, intending to pursue a career as a teacher for children with special needs, before she died just a month after her 20th birthday.

In an interview recorded with the BBC two years ago she said she enjoyed going to the cinema and "being on the phone pretty much all the time".

David Ireland, chief executive of Francis House, said Kirsty's fundraising "gave us a measure of security that allowed us to expand and develop our service".

He added: "Hundreds of children, young people and their families owe a tremendous debt to the young lady whose face made Francis House a household name."

Paying tribute, opera singer Russell Watson tweeted: "My inspirational friend Kirsty Howard is with the Angels. My heart is aching so much. RIP Angel forever xxxx"

Kirsty Howard

Image copyright PA
Image caption Kirsty's condition required a constant oxygen supply

She was born in Manchester on 20 September 1995 with an exceptionally rare and inoperable condition that meant her heart was back to front, causing the misplacement of her internal organs. The condition required a constant oxygen supply.

Kirsty first met David Beckham in 2001 when she was a mascot for England's 2002 World Cup qualifier against Greece. She walked out with the team with a 20kg oxygen tank in tow.

Alongside Beckham, she handed the baton to the Queen at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester.

In 2003 Kirsty started the first Great Manchester Run and took part in the race, wearing the number one vest in her wheelchair. She took part in the race every year following.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption In 2003 Kirsty started the first Great Manchester Run

She was awarded the Helen Rollason Award by the BBC in 2004 for her courage and determination and has also received the Child of Courage award and the Pride of Britain award.

Image caption Kirsty Howard is presented with the Helen Rollason Award in 2004

Kirsty was the face of the charity appeal for Francis House Hospice, originally opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1991.

The Kirsty Club was launched to expand and improve the service, with celebrity supporters of the appeal including Gloria Hunniford, Mohamed Al-Fayed, Davina McCall and opera singer Russell Watson.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Russell Watson sings to Kirsty Howard at Old Trafford in 2002
Image copyright PA
Image caption Kirsty with TV presenter Davina McCall in 2004
Image copyright PA
Image caption David Cameron and his wife Samantha met Kirsty Howard to learn about the Kirsty Appeal in 2009

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites