Sally MorganThe Duke and Duchess of Sussex will attend the WellChild Awards on 15 October
It is one of the most emotional nights of the year, and next week’s WellChild Awards promises to be another inspiring evening of tears and triumph as it celebrates children who’ve defied incredible health odds to succeed.
WellChild patron the Duke of Sussex has been a regular at the event, which this year takes place on 15 October at London’s Royal Lancaster Hotel, sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline. The charity, which cares for seriously ill children, was one of four causes to which Harry and Meghan asked people to donate instead of sending gifts for their newborn son Archie.
Here, HELLO! pays tribute to four incredible young winners who touched the hearts of the judges – who included our editor in chief Rosie Nixon.
When she was born with a form of cerebral palsy that affects the right side of her body, doctors told her parents that she would never be able to walk or talk. But Mia Thorne has proved them all wrong. The inspirational schoolgirl from Pontypridd in Wales, who lists her favourite subjects as drama and PE, is an avid ice-skater and is considering taking part in a charity skydive. As an ambassador for children’s charities Caudwell Children and Dreams Come True, she has raised more than £100,000 with black-tie balls, park races, cake sales, handmade bracelets and an ice-skating challenge. She also campaigns on disabled issues as a member of the Youth Parliament of Wales. One of Mia’s greatest achievements was campaigning for legislation that all playgrounds in Wales should be accessible to disabled children.
"For 17 years our local park wasn’t accessible or safe," says mum Karene, "The equipment had been burnt and vandalised, so there was nowhere for youngsters like her to go. She found it upsetting and frustrating." Mia sent a video of the playground to the council with proposals for improvements. Two months later a councillor backed her plans. "It was amazing," says Mia, who officially opened the new playground with a speech about how happy she was that she and her friends finally had a safe place to have fun. "There was new equipment and a roundabout that you can put a wheelchair on."
"I don’t think she realises how proud of her we are," says Karene, who nominated her for the award. "She's seen that she can make a difference and continues to have a positive view on not letting disability hold her back, despite the pain and challenges."
"I’m so happy," Mia tells HELLO!. "I'd like to show that just because you have a disability it doesn’t mean you can't do things.
"I’m hoping to meet Prince Harry and Meghan too. They do a lot of work for charities and I can't wait to tell them about mine."
Inspirational child 7-10 years
Emmie Narayn-Nicholas, 10
After being diagnosed with leukaemia two years ago, Emmie Narayn-Nicholas has endured gruelling treatment and long stays in hospital. Despite her illness, she came up with the idea to make wholesome home-cooked meals for the parents and families of young patients. In June 2018, she opened Emmie’s Kitchen at the Ronald McDonald House next to Royal Manchester Children's Hospital. Once a month, up to 200 people are treated to free three-course dinners and some welcome respite from the wards.
"It was all Emmie's idea," says her mum Eve, who works for her local authority in Manchester.
"So often the parents of poorly youngsters skip mealtimes or eat unhealthy fast food."
A network of friends and family – including Emmie's brother Billy, 14, and grandmother Jacqueline, who nominated her for the WellChild Award – prepare dishes, such as leek and potato soup followed by a choice of chicken curry, pasta salad or quiche, with fresh fruit or a chocolate brownie for dessert.
"Emmie serves at tables, slices bread and chats with the families," says Eve.
"Many people ask to meet her, the girl behind this brilliant idea, and she talks openly about her illness. She takes it all in her stride."
This remarkable girl was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia after returning from a family holiday in 2017.
"She’d lost weight, her skin had a yellow tinge, and her legs were aching," says Eve. "Every part of me was shaking when we were told she had leukaemia. It felt like a death sentence."
Debilitating bouts of chemotherapy saw Emmie lose her waist-length hair, yet she remained resilient throughout. "She was so upbeat and positive," says Eve. "She asked: 'Will I be able to get a wig?' In the end she never used it and wore the bald look really well."
Emmie, whose treatment ends at Christmas, says: "I'm very proud of Emmie's Kitchen and hope it can become a more regular service to help parents cope while they're in hospital with their children."
Keep clicking to see more pictures
Inspirational Child 4-6 years
Lyla-Rose O'Donovan, 6
For most of her short life she has suffered the excruciating effects of a malignant brain tumour, yet tender-hearted Lyla-Rose O’Donovan is on a mission to bring joy to other youngsters battling health problems. Together with her sister Lilley, 11, the pair set up Lyla and Lilley's Stars, a Facebook page where the girls send certificates of bravery to children all over the world.
"For Lyla, making other children happy is the best medicine," says mum Kirsty, 33. "When she sees a picture of another child smiling as they open a certificate from her, she feels so proud."
It was Lyla's dad Paul, an army corporal, who put his inspirational daughter forward for a WellChild Award. "When she heard she'd won, she was over the moon," the father of six tells HELLO! from their home in Durham. "She's excited about the possibility of meeting Prince Harry at the awards – and Meghan if she attends, too.
"Lyla's picked herself up and is helping others. The pleasure she brings is priceless. That’s why she so deserves this recognition," he adds.
Lyla was just 18 months old when she fell ill, with symptoms including vomiting and headaches. But it was not until she was three years old that a locum doctor referred her for an MRI. The scan revealed a cancerous tumour so large that it was taking over Lyla’s brain stem and growing inside the wall around the skull. Without an operation to remove it, doctors warned, she would be dead within days.
"Kirsty and I were devastated," says Paul. "There was a 50-50 chance Lyla wouldn’t make it through the op and even if she lived, she might be brain damaged or unable to walk or speak.
"Before she was wheeled into theatre, I told her: 'Daddy loves you. You're just having a little sleep and we'll see you soon.' Yet I was convinced she wouldn’t make it."
After undergoing nine more brain operations, Lyla has defied the odds. She is a lively little six-year-old who, as well as sending bravery certificates, raises money for food banks and asks her dad to buy sandwiches for homeless people they pass in the street.
"Despite everything she's been through, she thinks of others," says Paul. "She’s always smiling and a joy to be with, and I can't get over how lucky we are to have her."
Inspirational Young Person 15 - 18
Rhys Bonnell, 17
With his impressive set of gold medals, it's hard to believe that swimming champion Rhys Bonnell once suffered from a heart condition that almost claimed his life. But since his transplant nine years ago, Rhys has made quite a splash in the pool with success at the World Transplant Games.
"After his op, he took swimming lessons as a form of gentle exercise," his mum Rowena, a police officer, tells HELLO!. "The more he did it, the more he liked it." When the British Transplant Games took place near their home in Kent, Rhys entered and won three silver medals. "It gave him a buzz and made him want to push himself even more," she recalls.
He went on to win at the World Transplant Games and has continued to make waves in and out of the pool. "He gives everything a go," says Rowena. "It’s incredible to think that without a heart transplant he would not be here."
When Rhys fell ill ten years ago, she and her husband Neil, a retired police officer, were told that he’d contracted gastroenteritis. But after his lips suddenly turned blue, Rowena rushed him to hospital, where he was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood around the body efficiently.
"I was devastated," says Rowena. "When medication failed, I feared the worst." After a cardiac arrest, Rhys was transferred to Great Ormond Street Hospital, where doctors said his only chance of survival was a transplant. And he has made a remarkable recovery.
"His attitude was that because he'd been given a new chance at life, he should make the most of it," says Rowena. "By doing so, he’s also honouring the person who lost their life and gave him back his."
Rhys, whose next challenge is to study physics at university, says: "My transplant made me aware of how short life can be, that it can be taken in a split second. It made me push myself to new limits. I want to highlight the importance of organ donation, to show that it needn't hold you back from fulfilling your dream."
The 15th WellChild Awards will be held on 15 October at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London, sponsored by GSK. There are about 100,000 children and young people in the UK living with challenging and complex health needs, but the charity, of which the Duke of Sussex is patron, strives to make it possible for them to be looked after at home instead of in hospital. A team of WellChild nurses support youngsters and their families, while volunteers transform gardens and bedrooms into brighter, safer places. To make a donation, visit wellchild.org.uk/donate.