David Beckham pays tribute after fundraiser Kirsty Howard dies aged 20
David Beckham has paid a touching personal tribute to "miracle girl" Kirsty Howard who has died aged 20, after being given just weeks to live at the age of four.
The global superstar said Kirsty was an "inspirational young lady" after she battled her rare heart condition throughout her life to raise millions for charity.
Kirsty captured the hearts of the nation with her determination, after she was the only British child - and one of only two worldwide - born with a back-to-front heart.
The former England captain and Manchester United star first met her when she was the mascot for England's crucial World Cup qualifier against Greece - holding her hand as she walked out onto the pitch with an oxygen tank in tow.
Beckham said later it was her bravery that gave him the inspiration to score a winner in the dying minutes of the vital game.
In a posting on his Instagram account, the father-of-four said: "Words cannot describe how amazing this young lady has been over the years.
"Kirsty has been defying doctors for many years and whilst doing that she has been raising millions of pounds for terminally ill children...
"I met Kirsty in 2002 when she became the nations and my good luck charm for the game against Greece, we also met the queen together in Manchester so you could say we have spent some amazing moments together over the years and 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 ... My heart and love goes to Kirsty for letting me be a small part of your world over the years.. Rest in peace."
Kirsty also accompanied Beckham to hand over the ceremonial baton as the Queen opened the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.
Her condition meant her parents Lynn and Steve, from Wythenshawe, Manchester, 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.
During her short life she also overcame her illness to study childcare at college and was also a proud auntie.
After battling ill health throughout her life she died in hospital at 1.38am today with her parents and sisters Zoe and Kim at her bedside at the Manchester Royal Infirmary.
Beckham's tribute was one of scores from celebrities and VIPs flooding in, including Prime Minister David Cameron, who tweeted: "Very sad to hear of the death of Kirsty Howard, a truly inspirational young woman whose fundraising efforts will have touched so many."
Opera star Russell Watson tweeted: "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."
Members of the public added to hundreds of online tributes.
Amanda Sweeney tweeted: "#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."