David Beckham pays tribute to fundraiser Kirsty Howard

David Beckham, Kirsty Howard and the Queen Image copyright PA

David Beckham has paid tribute to "inspirational young lady" Kirsty Howard, who has died at the age of 20.

Kirsty, who was born with a rare heart defect and was given just weeks to live at the age of four, attracted attention when she joined Beckham to launch the 2002 Manchester Commonwealth Games.

She went on to raise more than £7.5m for Manchester's Francis House Children's Hospice.

Beckham described her as "amazing" and said she would be missed.

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

Her parents, and sisters Zoe and Kim, were at Kirsty's bedside at Manchester Royal Infirmary when she died on Saturday, said a spokesman from the Kirsty Club, a charity founded by the youngster.

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Media captionBeckham paid tribute to her charity work

Her fundraising efforts for Francis House 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.

'Brave lady'

In a post on his instagram account, Beckham wrote: "Kirsty has been defying doctors for many years and whilst doing that she has been raising millions of pounds for terminally ill children."

The former England captain added: "It was an inspiration to meet such a brave young lady with so much drive for helping others.

"My love and thoughts go to Kirsty's parents and sisters as this inspirational young lady will be missed."

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.

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 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

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