Inspirational Swiss Cottage schoolgirl, 12, meets Prince Harry

A 12-year-old girl from Swiss Cottage met Prince Harry before she was presented with an award for being an “inspirational child”.

Pooja Deshpande, of Fairfax Road, has a severe muscle wasting condition. She met and spoke to the prince at the star-studded WellChild Awards at the Intercontinental Park Lane Hotel on Monday night.

The awards celebrate the bravery of some of the country’s most seriously ill children.

Pooja won the category for the most inspirational young woman aged 12 to 15. She was presented with the award by BBC sports reporter Chris Hollins.

Her father, Kedar, said: “It was great. She was a little shy when she met Prince Harry. She could not express it but she was really happy about it. She has a lot of pictures of him and she has been telling everybody about it.”

Her mother, Shetal, said: “The whole evening was done very well and everybody was made to feel special. We are extremely proud of her irrespective of any award.”

Pooja was diagnosed with muscular atrophy when she was aged 18 months. She is wheelchair bound and has limited movement in her hands.

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Her illness is progressive and she receives care from three London hospitals – the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital in Chelsea, and Great Ormond Street Hospital in Bloomsbury.

She also requires two hours of physiotherapy a day and has a carer at night.

Despite this, she has a positive attitude. Shetal said: “She’s got such a positive attitude to life. She does not look at what she does not have. She feels she is an extremely normal child.

“She’s an absolute inspiration to us. We have stopped grumbling about the small things in life as we see what problems she suffers on a daily basis.”

Three years ago, Pooja fought for her life after she contracted swine flu. She spent ten weeks in intensive care while her parents feared the worst.

“A lot of time it was touch and go,” said her father. “Doctors were preparing us for the worst. After that she has done so well. She has a lot of willpower and determination. She only looks ahead.”

Her ability to be positive has meant that she is doing well at school. Pooja goes to Hampstead School in West Hampstead and is learning her sixth language.

“She loves school,” said her mother. “In spite of her illness she has an attendance rate of 96 per cent and she got a medal for her academic achievements.”