Tributes have been expressed to the family of an inspiring young girl from Co Down who passed away suddenly over the weekend after surviving a devastating accident last year.
Ellie McDonnell (16) from Portaferry recently supported the National Air Ambulance Week after she was involved in a collision at her family home last year.
The accomplished equestrian rider had been picked to ride in the Northern Ireland team in a competition in Wales just before the crash occurred on July 23, 2019.
The Down High School pupil was riding a quad bike when she collided with her mum’s 4x4 on a blind bend on a lane leading to the family home.
It later emerged that Ellie had sustained broken arms, legs, eye sockets, cheeks and teeth, and had severe swelling on the brain.
Shortly after their arrival, the Air Ambulance medical team put her into an induced coma to protect her brain and then she was transported to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.
Ellie’s parents, Mary and Peter, travelled via car to the hospital and were told to prepare for the worst due to the extent of her injuries.
However, Ellie made a dramatic recovery and was discharged from hospital on September 20 last year. Since then, Ellie raised as much money as possible for Air Ambulance NI.
In a recent fundraising initiative, she said: “I don’t remember much about that day. All I know is that the air ambulance saved my life and without them I wouldn’t be sitting here today. I would just like to thank Air Ambulance NI for all that they have done for me.”
In a statement, the principal of Down High School, Mrs Maud Perry, said Ellie’s “tenacity after her accident last year was truly inspirational, and she showed a level of courage and positivity that was remarkable”.
“It was an absolute privilege to have known Ellie. We will treasure the precious memories we have of her and will miss her terribly,” she said.
Ms Perry described Ellie as “an exceptional student, conscientious, hardworking and highly intelligent”.
She added: “She was also one of the stars of the school’s equestrian team and competed regularly across the British Isles to very high acclaim. Ellie loved horses and her passion for the outdoors was obvious.”
Abbots Cross Presbyterian Church said on social media: “Some sad news, Ellie McDonnell, the girl who recently had surgery to fit a titanium plate has died suddenly. Please pray for God’s comfort for them as they come to terms with their loss.”
The committee of the NI Welsh Pony and Cob Society said it was “devastated” by the news. It said: “Ellie has been an inspiration to so many and leaves behind a huge legacy.”
The Northern Area committee of the Irish Pony Society added: “We send our heartfelt condolences and sincerest sympathy to her parents Peter and Mary and brother Max at this extremely difficult time.”
Ballygalget GAC, where Ellie’s brother Max plays, also expressed its condolences to the family.