Tributes pour in after fundraiser Kirsty Howard dies aged 20


Tributes have poured in for an inspirational fundraiser who died aged 20 - after being given just weeks to live at the age of four.

Brave Kirsty Howard captured the hearts of the nation battling her condition after she was the only British child - and one of only two worldwide - born with a back-to-front heart.

Her parents Lynn and Steve were told she would not live past her fourth birthday.

But she became a tireless fundraiser, raising more than £7.5 million for Francis House Children's Hospice in Manchester.

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

Kirsty, from Wythenshawe, Manchester, shot to fame after she accompanied David Beckham to hand over the ceremonial baton as the Queen opened the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.

She died in hospital at 1.38am today surrounded by her family, a spokesman said.

Her parents along with sisters Zoe and Kim were at the bedside at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

Tributes to her have flooded in, with opera star Russell Watson tweeting: "My inspirational friend Kirsty Howard is with the Angels. My heart is aching so much. RIP Angel forever xxxx"

Coronation Street actress Jennie McAlpine tweeted: "Such sad news. A real inspiration. Everyone who met her fell in love. Love to her family."

Her co-star Antony Cotton said: "Just heard the news about Kirsty Howard, Manchester's most precious daughter. It was a privilege to have known her."

During her short life she also overcame her illness to study childcare at college and was also a proud auntie before she died just a month after her 20th birthday.

Members of the public added to hundreds of online tributes.

Amanda Sweeney tweeted: "RIP #kirstyhoward such an inspirational and very strong brave young lady. You will be truly missed. Heaven has gained a true angel xx" and Karen Sutcliffe said: "So sad to hear Kirsty Howard has died. Such an inspirational young lady. My thoughts are with her family. #RIPKirsty."

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

Her charity work raised the funds necessary for the long-term future of its care for terminally-ill children and support for their parents.

The Kirsty Club was launched to expand and improve the service and as a lasting legacy to Kirsty's bravery in battling her health condition while helping the lives of others.

Celebrity supporters of the appeal included Gloria Hunniford, former Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed, Davina McCall and opera singer Russell Watson.

In a statement, Francis House hospice said: "Our deepest condolences go to her family.

"We cannot express enough our humble thanks and gratitude to an incredible young woman."

David Ireland, chief executive of the hospice, said: "Francis House had struggled to meet its running costs for many years. Kirsty's fundraising changed that and gave us a measure of security that allowed us to expand and develop our service.

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