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The real-life mum who inspired Sandra to her Oscar glory

When Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy welcomed a 16-year-old stranger into their home they had no idea their story would become the plot of the best- selling book and award- winning film The Blind Side.

In their own book, In A Heartbeat, the couple describe why they took Michael Oher, a boy from the ghetto who had been living in foster homes, into their care, provided a tutor for him to improve his grades and later adopted him.

They also describe their charitable approach to helping others, which they call the popcorn theory: "Stay low key. Work around your area. Help those to the left and to the right," Leigh Anne Tuohy said in an interview: "It'll start a huge ripple effect. We've seen it."

She and her husband barely thought about the possible risks when they took in 6ft 6ins Oher, who later joined the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League.

"The popcorn theory is that there're all these kernels in the pan and if it heats up, the hottest pop up," Tuohy explained.

"We believe Michael was a hot kernel, a big one, and he popped right up in front of our face. We had no agenda."

The couple believe giving should be done with a cheerful heart.

Too often, guilt or obligation spur donations and taint the experience.

They donate their time, money and energy to local, children-focused activities.

Money is important, they say, but insist that the gift of time is more vital.

Tuohy said Michael turned out the way he did because they invested time in him.

"We told him, 'Take your elbows off the table! Be home at 10 o'clock! I'm taking away your cell phone because you didn't turn in your biology homework!'

"Those are the things that make an individual. Everybody needs your money. But individuals need your time."

She is worried than there is more concern in America about the welfare of animals than of children. "I'm sorry. There are kids in this country who want a home. We're worried about the wrong things. We've got to refocus our attention."

Author Michael Lewis's book and the film that earned Sandra Bullock an Academy Award for best actress for her feisty portrayal of Tuohy, made the couple famous.

"It's scary how much we have similarities," said Tuohy, who said that Bullock even bossed around her husband in the film in the same way she might. "Things pop up and they're identical."

The Tuohys have received thousands of letters from Americans who say they were inspired to give up holiday gifts or even adopt children after hearing about what they did.

"There are some amazing, amazing stories," said Tuohy who plans to write a book about them.