Lying in his hospital bed, with a knitted toy resting under his chin, toddler Alfie Evans appears to ‘smile’ just days before his death.
This beautiful picture, posted on Facebook by Alfie’s dad, Tom Evans, on Thursday, seems to show the 23-month-old with a ‘cheeky grin’.
Supporters have been commenting on the image after Tom, 21, and Alfie’s mum, Kate James, announced he had passed away this morning.
One member of ‘Alfie’s Army’, Carol Fittis, wrote under the photo: “He’s a wee smile on his face here he must have seen his guardian angel.”
Another, Naiomi Anderson, commented: “RIP little man.
“Love this picture you look so cheeky xx.”
Anne-Marie Cabble posted, “This photo he looks like he’s smiling xxx”, while Lynn Redford described Alfie as a “little smiling angel”.
And a fifth member, Kirsty Harris, remarked of the image: “Bless him he looks like he’s having a cheeky smile there x.”
Alfie, who was being treated at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, died five days after his life support was switched off.
In an emotional post on Facebook today, his devastated parents said: “Our baby boy grew his wings tonight at 2:30 am. We are heart broken.
“Thankyou everyone for all your support.”
In a separate post, dad Tom wrote: “My gladiator lay down his shield and gained his wings at 02:30… absolutely heartbroken.
“I LOVE YOU MY GUY.”
Alder Hey expresses “heartfelt sympathy”
Alder Hey has issued a statement following Alfie’s death.
The hospital said today: “We wish to express our heartfelt sympathy and condolences to Alfie’s family at this extremely distressing time.
“All of us feel deeply for Alfie, Kate, Tom and his whole family and our thoughts are with them.
“This has been a devastating journey for them and we would ask that their privacy and the privacy of staff at Alder Hey is respected.”
The couple, both from Liverpool, had fought to take Alfie to a foreign hospital for treatment, but lost a final court appeal on Wednesday.
Doctors had removed the little boy’s life support, against his parents’ wishes, on Monday following a High Court judge’s ruling.
However, he continued to live.
The toddler left medics “gobsmacked” by breathing for himself, according to his dad, who said he was “comfortable” off the ventilator.
Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Tom described how his son was “content” and lying on his mum’s chest during the nights.
He said sitting beside Alfie “every second of every day” was encouraging him more and more that he would ‘live for months, possibly years’.
He added that he would be asking to take his child home from hospital.
But today, he and Kate announced the tragic news Alfie had died.
The toddler’s death comes just days after his parents failed in a last-ditch attempt to persuade judges to let him fly to Italy for treatment.
Alfie’s case touched hearts around the world, with Pope Francis among those who voiced support for the seriously ill youngster.
Tom and Kate lost two rounds of battles in the High Court, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court and European Court of Human Rights in their fight to keep their little boy alive.
On Wednesday, the couple, who wanted their son to be flown to a Rome hospital, mounted a “one last chance” challenge at the Court of Appeal.
They said their son had defied doctors’ expectations and his continued survival amounted to a significant change of circumstances which merited a review.
However, three Court of Appeal judges dismissed a challenge to a High Court decision made on Tuesday that he should not be taken abroad.
Lawyers representing Alder Hey bosses said Alfie’s condition was irreversible and there was no evidence that it had changed.
They said the fact that he had continued to breathe unaided might have surprised members of the public but had not surprised specialists.
Barrister Michael Mylonas QC, who led Alder Hey’s legal team, said it had never been suggested that Alfie would die as soon as life-support treatment stopped.
Barrister Sophia Roper, who represented the little boy and took instructions from a court-appointed guardian, agreed.
Lord Justice McFarlane, who headed the appeal court panel of judges, said Alfie’s parents were trying to take “one last chance”.
But he said there was no prospect of the couple’s challenge succeeding and Alfie was in “the middle” of a palliative care plan.
Alfie was at the centre of a life or death treatment battle for months, with his parents repeatedly trying to block doctors from withdrawing his life support.
The toddler suffered from an incurable brain condition and experts at Alder Hey said switching off life support would be in his best interests.
But his furious mum and dad fought to keep him breathing in the hope a diagnosis – and successful treatment – could be found.
Tom said their lives had been “turned upside down” by the “intense focus” their son’s case had received.
“Our little family along with Alder Hey has become the centre of attention for many people around the world and it has meant we have not been able to live our lives as we would like,” he said.
A “last-ditch appeal” in which the Italian ambassador granted Alfie citizenship of Italy in order to take him to Rome for treatment failed on Monday.
The following day, after Alfie’s life support was withdrawn, a three-hour hearing took place at the Family Division of the High Court in Manchester.
Paul Diamond, from the Christian Legal Centre, representing Tom and Kate, suggested an alleged change in position meant the court should reconsider its decision on allowing the toddler to travel abroad.
He handed the court a witness statement from Tom in which he suggested his son’s health was “significantly better” than first thought since life support was withdrawn, as he was continuing to live and breathe.
But High Court judge Mr Justice Hayden said in his ruling: “The sad truth is that it is not. With little, indeed no hesitation, I reject that.”
Alfie’s case provoked strong feelings over whether judges, doctors or parents have the right to decide on a child’s life.
Last weekend, supporters of the tot’s family attempted to storm Alder Hey.
After blocking the road for around 15 minutes, around 200 demonstrators moved to line both sides, cheering as motorists passing by blared their horns in support.
Dozens then ran towards the main doors before police officers blocked the entrance.
After a short standoff, the crowd retreated to gather around 100 yards away on the road outside, chanting: “Save Alfie Evans.”
In February, Mr Justice Hayden had ruled that doctors at the hospital could stop treating Alfie against the wishes of his parents following hearings in the Family Division of the High Court in London and Liverpool.
Alder Hey specialists said life support treatment should stop and Mr Justice Hayden said he accepted medical evidence which showed that further treatment was futile.
But Alfie’s parents desperately wanted to move their son to a hospital in Rome.
The couple said Italian doctors were willing to treat the little boy and air ambulance crews were available.
However, Mr Justice Hayden said flying Alfie to a foreign hospital would be wrong and pointless.
Court of Appeal judges upheld his decisions and Supreme Court justices refused to intervene.
Earlier this week, Alder Hey said its staff had experienced “unprecedented personal abuse” from some quarters after it found itself at the centre of a “social media storm”.
Hospital chiefs said workers had suffered “a barrage of highly abusive and threatening language and behaviour” in person, via phone and online.
“Having to carry on our usual day-to-day work in a hospital that has required a significant police presence just to keep our patients, staff and visitors safe is completely unacceptable,” the hospital’s chairman, Sir David Henshaw, and chief executive, Louise Shepherd, said in an open letter.
They continued: “Our staff have received in person, via phone calls, email, and through social media channels a barrage of highly abusive and threatening language and behaviour that has shocked us all.
“Worse still, patients and visitors to Alder Hey have also reported abuse. We are truly grateful to Merseyside Police for their unstinting support.
“This has helped us maintain our focus on safeguarding Alfie’s comfort, dignity and privacy, which remains our first priority.”
Merseyside Police issued a warning that it was monitoring posts online and that any “malicious communications or threatening behaviour” would investigated and could lead to action.
Following Alfie’s death, tributes have been pouring in for the little boy.
Piers Morgan tweeted: “RIP Alfie Evans. My deepest condolences to his parents, who fought so hard for their brave little boy.”
Meanwhile, Bradley Lowery’s mum, Gemma, posted on Facebook: “So sad to hear about the beautiful Alfie Evens I’m sending all my love to Alfie’s parents, they did everything they could for their little boy.”
She added: “RIP sweetheart, fly high with them angels and go have some fun with my baby boy.”