When terminally ill Isla Tansey died aged seven her grief-stricken family never believed she would touch so many hearts.
But a sweet pastime she invented to entertain herself has gone global.
The joyful girl, paralysed by a rare spinal cancer, started painting stones brought back from the woods by older brother Harrison, aged ten.
She wrote “#islastones. photo post. rehide” on the underside, concealed them and asked loved ones to find them.
Isla’s simple game of hide and seek took off when a relative posted pictures of a stone on a closed Facebook group.
People asked to join and were soon putting up pictures of their own Isla-inspired stones. Now there are thousands of them in more than 149 countries.
The love shown to Isla, who died last July, has meant so much to her family.
Her dad Simon, 46, said: “Having spent so many months in hospital with Isla in so much pain, and then having to say goodbye to her last summer, was unimaginably horrific.
“But to see this public outpouring of love and affection as a result of that suffering is a wonderful thing.
"Nothing will ever bring Isla back, but the fact that anything positive could come out of this is beyond all our expectations.”
Soon Facebook was accepting 1,000 new members a day to the site, as people heard of Isla’s story and her beautifully coloured stones and decided to do their own. It now has over 65,000 members.
One, showing penguins huddled together, was posted by a member in Antarctica, with ice in the background.
Another post showed a stone depicting India’s famous Taj Mahal – with the real monument in the background. Dozens more come from countries as far afield as New Zealand and Japan.
Isla’s mum Katherine, 44, from Leicester, said: “It’s bizarre to think there’s a piece of Isla almost everywhere in the world now. I am sure that would make her giggle.”
“It was just supposed to be a distraction for Isla but the whole Isla Stones thing went crazy, almost overnight.
"We really thought the Isla Stones thing would fade after we lost Isla, but the opposite has been true. It’s really quite magical.”
Occupational therapist Katherine said: “We’ve had the most heartfelt notes from people in their 80s or 90s saying this has inspired them to pick up a paint brush for the first time in decades.
“For some incredible reason, the Isla Stones movement has connected with so many people, people who never met Isla but feel they know her.”
Katherine and Simon discovered in 2017 that Isla had cancer.
She underwent surgery to remove as much of the diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, DIPG, tumour as possible.
This was followed by palliative radiotherapy to stop the cancer spreading and growing.
Isla returned home after six months in hospital and, to lift her spirits, her parents arranged a personal visit by Leigh-Anne Pinnock from Little Mix, as well as unicorns and Disney princesses. T
he family are trying to raise £73,000 with the charity Abbie’s Army – to fund more research into DIPG. To date they have raised more than £40,000.
Katherine said: “Nothing will ever replace our Isla Smiler, but to see something positive come out of something so horrific is lovely.”
Isla’s death last July prompted a massive celebration of her life in a local park, with thousands of Isla Stones left on the bandstand as a symbol of the community’s love for the brave little girl.
On Easter Sunday an Isla stone hunt fundraiser was organised at a local garden centre, with over 2,000 stones hidden around the ground.
To donate to the Isla Stones/Abbie’s Army campaign, click here .
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