GRACE Kemp’s tale of courage touched the hearts of judges who will tonight champion unsung heroes in our Pride of Wearside Awards.
Her story is one of many of inspiration and courage to get the recognition they richly deserve at the Stadium of Light ceremony, which will be attended by city dignitaries and SAFC stars John O’Shea and Connor Wickham.
Despite being just seven, Grace has had to deal with more in her life than most adults.
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.
The County Durham youngster embarked on an intense course of chemotherapy, but her vision has been left impaired.
But, despite spending her short life in and out of hospital, mum Judith says the youngster takes it in her stride.
“She is absolutely fantastic,” said the 40-year-old.
To look at her, you wouldn’t think there is anything wrong but she has gone through so much.
“She attends a mainstream school and copes so well.
“I saw the Pride of Wearside awards and the Child of Courage category in the Echo, and thought it would be a great way of giving her some recognition. We are so proud of her.”
As the years have gone on, Grace has developed peripheral neuropathy, damage to the peripheral nervous system which affects her legs.
She has also started hormone injections to prevent the onset of puberty to limit tumour growth.
A huge SAFC fan, her zest for life impressed SAFC director Niall Quinn, who arranged for her to visit the stadium, where she also met England star Frank Lampard.
Judith, who is married to Joseph, said: “I’m very proud of my little girl because whatever life throws at her she takes it all in her stride and would love to see her as a inspiration to other children.”
* Find out how Grace and the rest of the nominees got on in tomorrow’s Echo.
Pride of Wearside Shortlist:
Community Group - Back on the Map; Healing Opportunities Provision Service (Hops); The Box Youth Project
Community Champion - Geraldine Plunkett and Audrey Turnbull from Donna Claire; Jonathan Chicken; David Goodfellow
Safer Community - Chain Singh Gill; Free the Way; The Rectory Park
Green Champion - East Boldon Methodist Church’s Sunday School; Peter Gibson; Houghton Kepier Sports College; Groundwork North East
Student of the Year - Kirk Newton; John Burn
Fund-raiser - Julie Reay; Barry Clarke; Jim Cleghorn
Sporting Achievement - David Bolt; Pat McCormack; Alex Sawyer-Copus; Rebecca Burnett
Local Hero - Kirsty McGurrell; Sophie McCabe; Brothers in Arms
Local Forces Hero - Shortlist to be announced on the night
Child of Achievement - Nicole Shipley; Loghan MacDonald; Reece Monson
Child of Courage - Lucy Wood; Connor Cassidy; Grace Ann Kemp; Chloe Gray; Leighton Cook