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Sunday 18 March 2018

'She is shining amongst the stars' - Tributes paid to girl (16) who passed away from cancer

Alexandra with her parents Karen and Andre on New Year's Day
Alexandra with her parents Karen and Andre on New Year's Day

Leona O'Neill

The 16-year-old girl who stole the hearts of thousands of people all over the world during a five-year battle with cancer has died.

Alexandra Johnston from Derry passed away yesterday morning in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children surrounded by her loving family.

She had battled Ewings Sarcoma Cancer since 2013.

Her heartbroken father Andre last night paid tribute to the "inspirational brave and talented young lady" that his daughter was.

"A lot of you have been on this journey with us for four and half years and been inspired, laughed and now shed a tear as the most amazing, inspirational, brave and talented young lady is shining amongst the stars tonight," he said.

"She has left an indelible mark on many lives, changed lives and enriched people's hearts all over the world. We as a family took strength from all messages of support, cards, gifts and Facebook posts shared throughout our journey. Thank you all."

Alexandra, or Ya Ya as she was affectionately known by family and friends, had turned 16 - an age that doctors told her she would not see - just 18 days ago.

The Claudy teenager had received thousands of well wishes from all over the world after putting out an appeal through the Belfast Telegraph to help her break the world record for receiving birthday cards.

At the time the brave teen, who was first diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma Cancer in 2013 and given just three months to live, said she wanted to mark the milestone she was told she would not survive to reach.

Just days later, cards began flooding in from as far away as America and Australia, wishing her well on her New Year's Day birthday.

"I was so overwhelmed by all the cards," she said on January 2. "I sat at midnight on the day of my birthday and opened about 170 of them, reading out the lovely messages from all over the world.

"I had to go to bed at 2am and there were still I'd guess over a thousand still to read and more to come in in the next few days. We didn't even make a dent in them on my birthday.

"I think my 16th birthday is really special," she said. "I've always thought that people should make a big deal of their 16th birthday.

"I think it's even more special for me because four years ago we were told that I wouldn't make my 12th birthday, so to reach my 16th birthday is a big, big thing in this house."

Boxes and boxes of cards, messages and presents from strangers still sit in her parents' Claudy home.

Sons of Anarchy-mad Alexandra captured hearts all over the world two years ago after a video posted online of her being made an honorary member of a Northern Irish biker gang went viral.

Up to 40 leather-clad bikers from all over Ireland rode to the teenager's Claudy home to surprise her with Sons of Anarchy merchandise and bike-related gifts.

Her parents and a family friend organised the surprise visit to cheer Alexandra up while she went through gruelling chemotherapy.

The video has clocked up nearly seven million views online.

Months later, Alexandra met her screen idol, Sons of Anarchy star Ryan Hurst at a Comic Con in Wales.

The two became firm friends and kept in contact as Alexandra went through chemo.

In August of last year, Alexandra and her family hit the headlines again after being caught up in the Spanish terror attacks while on a holiday of a lifetime.

The family, whose friends raised the money to send them on the sunshine break, were in the town of Cambrils when five jihadists mowed three people down before smashing into a police car and attempting to go on a rampage brandishing knives, machetes and axes.

The attack happened just hours after terrorists ran down and killed 13 people in Barcelona.

At the time, Andre said the attack marred what was to be a special family holiday to help make memories with his daughter, who had just completed another brutal bout of chemotherapy.

Alexandra's funeral arrangements are yet to be finalised.

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