Aged just five, little Hope Hillis from Lisburn has spent most of her life in hospital, endured over 50 major operations and has cheated death on more than one occasion.
And through it all she has displayed remarkable courage and a spirit so impressive that she was named the winner of a prestigious UK award to celebrate children who have shown courage in the face of serious and life-threatening medical conditions.
So incredible is this little girl that she managed to steal the limelight when she met Prince Harry as she picked up her award this week.
Ignoring normal protocol, she opted to greet the prince with not one — but three — cow licks.
And according to her mum Sarah, it is a sign of true affection from this special girl.
“If Hope loves you she doesn’t give you a kiss, she gives you a big cow lick,” she said.
“She said beforehand she was going to lick Prince Harry when she met him and we told her she couldn’t, but she went ahead and did it anyway.”
Hope weighed just 740 grams when she was born four months early and as a result she has suffered a series of potentially fatal complications. Sarah explained: “When she was just a day old her lung collapsed and this kept happening, which then caused a massive bleed in her brain.
“She was only 10 days old when she had her first operation to repair a perforated bowel. The doctors didn’t think she would make it through the surgery.
“It was so hard waiting while she was in theatre, you feel so helpless, you just have to put your trust in the medical staff and hope she will pull through.”
Hope was finally allowed to go home, but it was only six days before she was rushed back to hospital again.
“We were actually in Lagan Valley Hospital when she stopped breathing,” said Sarah.
“It was really lucky we were there at the time.”
In the following years many serious problems arose for Hope.
“It has been over a year now since Hope was last in surgery, so, fingers crossed, it stays that way.
“She’s been through so much but Hope just laughs through it all. Every surgery she’s had she walks into theatre herself and starts to boss everyone around,” said Sarah. “When it is time to be sedated she tells everyone ‘night night’. That’s just the way she is, so I wasn’t too surprised when she licked Prince Harry.”
Some of the medical complications Hope Hillis has endured:
- Born at just 24 weeks — four months early
- Recurrent collapsed lungs — the first when she was a day old
- Spent months with an open wound on her head until she underwent a skin graft to cover her skull
- Cardiac arrest during surgery
- Diagnosed with meningitis on four occasions
- Several operations to repair a perforation and twisted bowel\[e.hagan\]l Underwent her first operation when she was just 10 days old
- Had a tracheotomy to help her breathe at night
- Countless operations to relieve fluid pressure on her brain