The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have awarded the daughter of a British Army soldier a prestigious award for trying to brighten the lives of ill children despite facing her own uncertain future.
Lyla O’Donovan, 6, was diagnosed with a brain tumour three years ago and has since endured nine operations. The British Army made sure that her father Corporal Paul O'Donovan, who was part of 5 RIFLES, was posted to 8 RIFLES so that he could attend hospital appointments nearby. He was then able to be by her side while she suffered from meningitis, hydrocephalus and needed to have a VP shunt implanted to relieve pressure on her brain.
Lyla finds solace in making other children smile who also face life-changing challenges. She set up ‘Lyla and Lilley’s Stars’ with her big sister to send certificates to other brave children around the world. Her sister Lilley said:
"Me and Lyla do the certificates because Lyla was poorly and she wanted everyone else who was poorly to be noticed more."
Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been moved by the ‘extraordinary strength, courage and resilience’ of all the WellChild nominees.
The Duke of Sussex has been Patron of WellChild, the national charity for sick children, since 2007. Speaking at the awards ceremony the Duke said:
“It has been over a decade since I first came to these Awards and every year they never fail to surprise and inspire me.
“Yet this year, it resonates in a different way, because now I’m a father.”
When Harry and Meghan attended the awards last year, they knew they were pregnant with their first son Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor but the news hadn’t been made public so they were privately imagining what it might be like for them to be faced with a child born with challenges. He said:
“When my wife and I attended we knew we were expecting our first child - no one else did at the time, but we did - and I remember squeezing Meghan’s hand so tight during the awards...”
Lyla and Archie, of course, have something in common, their fathers have served in the British Army. Lyla's father thinks the British Army deserves more praise for how positively they have responded to his requests for leave when his daughter has needed hospital care.
He says the civilian parents he spends time with at the hospital often encounter resistance from their employers. Something he has never faced in the British Army. He said:
"When you see other families in similar positions but they're not in the forces and they've still got mortgages to pay and they're getting two weeks sick leave and they have to go back to work and leave their children in hospital."
The O’Donovan family is working with the charity Brain Tumour Research to raise awareness of the disease, which kills more children and adults under the age of 40 than any other cancer. About his daughter's positive outlook on life in the face of cancer Paul said:
"Every month she's having something done to her and ... she never once whinges or moans about nothing, she's a massive inspiration to me."
Seeing happy pictures of the children she sends certificates to motivates Lyla to join her five siblings in raising money for charities. Lyla’s mum, Kirsty O’Donovan, said:
“For Lyla, making other children happy is the best medicine.
“She is the bravest child I know and takes everything in her stride."
Pictures: Brain Tumour Research