A girl whose story touched the hearts of Echo readers has reached new heights after winning medals in the British Transplant Games.
Francesca McCulloch, from Penshaw, underwent a liver transplant aged just 16 months after suffering for the first part of her life with life-threatening and incurable liver disease biliary atresia.
The transplant took place 10 years ago, and now aged 11, she is fighting fit and making her mark.
Francesca competing in the 9-11 age category, won silver medals in an obstacle course race and a 50m sprint in the Games at Gateshead International Stadium, while she also competed in the cycling and swimming.
Her team, Leeds Little Livers, also won the best team award, adding another trophy to Francesca’s collection.
The youngster’s mum, Louise Cullen, was left ‘very emotional’ by her success.
I’m so proud of her, and I was very emotional when she was competing in the eventsLouise Cullen
She said: “I’m so proud of her, and I was very emotional when she was competing in the events.
“When you see all of the other kids, it puts things into perspective. Some were in wheelchairs, some were poorly and some were healthy, but all of them competed.
“Francesca absolutely loved it, as did all of us, and she can’t wait for next year’s event in Liverpool, when she’ll be going for gold.
“She has been meaning to compete in the Transplant Games every year, but had never got round to it, and with it being in the North East, we thought there was no excuse not to do it this year.”
Francesca is set to start comprehensive school at Biddick Academy in September, having been taught at Barnwell Primary School.
Mum Louise added: “Francesca has had her ups and downs since the transplant, with viruses and short spells in hospital, but she has done really well.
“In January, it was 10 years since the transplant, so she needed lots of tests and was in hospital for three days, but everything was fine.
“We also met the donor family about five years ago, and have kept in touch with them.
“Their son was 22 when he died, and we can’t thank the family enough.
“They weren’t aware that he carried a donor card, but they found it after his death, and they always like to hear about how Francesca is getting on.
“Before she got her transplant, she was at death’s door, because she had been waiting a long time for it.
Meanwhile, Louise is set to take part in this year’s Great North Run as she looks to raise funds for Children Liver Disease Foundation (CLDF).