When she was born, Howard was found to have a bizarre defect: her heart was “back-to-front” — and it couldn’t be fixed. She is the only person ever in the United Kingdom to receive such a diagnosis, and only the second person in the world. By the time she was turning 4, her condition was so bad she was given just weeks to live — but she survived and grew to adulthood, though she had to be tethered to oxygen full-time, and needed constant medical attention. Some of her treatments were from Francis House Hospice, a children’s hospice originally opened in 1991 by Princess Diana.
But with Diana’s death in 1997, the Manchester hospice was in terrible financial condition. “In 2002, there was only enough money to keep the place open for three months,” said Phil Taylor, director of a charity set up to save the hospice. The charity was dubbed “Kirsty’s Appeal” — and the girl became its figurehead: she spent years working toward the goal of raising 5 million pounds (US$7.7 million) to create an endowment that would allow the hospice to operate indefinitely. Kirsty’s fundraising efforts not only easily hit that target, she beat it by an extra 2.5 million pounds, which “gave us a measure of security that allowed us to expand and develop our service,” says Francis House head David Ireland. “Hundreds of children, young people and their families owe a tremendous debt to the young lady whose face made Francis House a household name.” About 1,200 children and teens are treated at Francis House and the new Francis Lodge, built with the extra funds Kirsty raised. Kirsty herself was well enough to attend college; she studied to be a teacher for children with special needs. But her most recent medical treatments were not successful, and she died on October 24, a little more than a month after she turned 20.