Pride of Wearside: Sunderland’s great and good

Pride of Wearside 2011 Child of Courage winners with Sunderland Echo Editor Rob Lawson.

Pride of Wearside 2011 Child of Courage winners with Sunderland Echo Editor Rob Lawson.

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MEET Sunderland’s Children of Courage.

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as these five brave youngsters stepped up to collect their awards.

Judges couldn’t choose between their tales of fortitude in the face of adversity, so awarded them all a trophy at our sixth Pride of Wearside Awards.

Little Connor Cassidy is no stranger to the awards. He already has a Pride of Wearside gong from last year, but as he fights on, despite being diagnosed with terminal cancer, judges felt he deserved further recognition.

Everything is being done to prolong the five-year-old’s life, including travelling to London for specialist radiation therapy.

He’s spent his short life in and out of hospital after being diagnosed with a neuroblastoma tumour in 2008, a cancer which forms in nerve tissue.

The doctors say nothing more can be done to halt the spread of the cancer which means every day the Barnes Primary School pupil spends with his family is precious.

He said he was excited to take his award into school today to show his best friend Ethan.

Mum Elaine Fraser, 23, from Barnes, said: “I was surprised he won again this year, but after everything he’s gone through he really deserves it. As do all the children here.

“Connor has his good days and his bad days. He’s not feeling too well tonight, but he’s excited to put his award on his bedroom shelf next to the other one.”

Little Miss Incredible, aka Lucy Wood, was also named as one of our Children of Courage.

The eight-year-old has been given the nickname by her family for the determination and effort she ploughs into raising awareness of childhood MS.

The Peterlee schoolgirl was diagnosed with the condition, a disabling neurological disorder which affects the central nervous system, when she was aged five.

Since then she has gone on to prove a real inspiration.

As well as regular fund-raising for the Sunderland branch of the MS Society and being interviewed by GMTV about her condition, Lucy has fronted a fund-raising campaign for a five-year study into childhood MS at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, which has so far raised £97,000.

She said: “I feel really proud to win this award. And proud to win it for the MS Society. I’ve really enjoyed tonight, but it was a big shock to win. I never thought it would happen.”

Spirited Grace Kemp, seven, has faced more in her life than most adults.

The Durham schoolgirl faces a daily battle with a catalogue of health problems.

At just 18 months, her family were devastated to learn that she had a condition called neurofibrematosis, and is susceptible to growing tumours on nerve endings on any part of her body.

Grace was dealt a further blow at the age of two when it was discovered a piece of bone was missing from her left arm, which meant she had to undergo a nine-hour operation to transplant bone from her leg to replace it.

As if that wasn’t enough, a routine eye test at the age of four revealed she had a tumour on both optic nerves which has left her visually impaired.

She said: “It’s been very good tonight. Connor Wickham is my favourite football player at Sunderland and I got to meet him tonight. I was a little bit nervous when I got my award, but I’ve had fun.”

Mum Judith said: “I’m over the moon Grace has won. Tonight has been fantastic. Everyone here is a winner.”

Cute Chloe Gray is a regular face in the Sunderland Echo.

The 17-month-old, the face of the Echo’s Chloe’s Call-up Campaign, needs a life-saving blood transplant once a month, after being diagnosed with rare, life-threatening Diamond Blackfan Anaemia.

It means her life is dependent on Wearsiders who come forward and give blood and our campaign aims to increase the number of people across the region donating blood on a regular basis.

Chloe’s mum Francesca, 21, of Plains Farm, said: “Tonight has been amazing. I couldn’t have chosen between all the Children of Courage so I’m glad they gave an award to them all. We’ve had such a good response from the campaign, it’s all about making people more aware of what the condition is and how they can help.

“We are so proud that Chloe is making a difference. If it wasn’t for people doing this then Chloe might not be here, so please take time out to donate blood.”

Leighton Cook looked a picture of health as he ran up to collect his award, but his smile hides the illness which threatened his life this time last year.

The four-year-old, of Tunstall Village, was given just a 30 per cent chance of survival after being diagnosed with neoroblastoma last June, a cancer which forms in nerve tissue.

After successful chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, the youngster is now in remission and is loving being able to attend classes at New Silksworth Primary School.

Mum Lynzie, 33, said: “We’re so overwhelmed by the whole night.

“Leighton was so poorly this time last year that we weren’t sure he would come out the other end.

“Touch wood, he’s okay at the minute. I must admit I had a bit of a wobble when I saw him getting his award.

“It’s extra special because it’s a local award from our area.”

Although Leighton is getting his life back on track, his family are continuing to raise money for stem-cell treatment in case he suffers a relapse.

It’s hoped that raising £50,000 will pay for Leighton’s stem cells to be harvested so they could be used in treatment should the cancer return.

The family’s fund-raising drive has won nationwide support, including from Emmerdale star Danny Miller, who plays Aaron and Umar Kamarni, founder of Boohoo.com.

Lynzie said: “The support we have had has been absolutely fantastic. Leighton has a strong chance of relapse, so we want to give him as much chance of prolonging his life as possible.”

For a full list of the night’s winners, see today’s Echo.

For more winners’ stories and photos see tomorrow’s Echo.