THE death of a brave and terminally ill little girl has inspired a swell of support for the hospice which helped her.

Iona-May Thorne was born nine weeks premature which left her blind and with cerebral palsy.

The youngster from Worthing was also unable to use her arms and legs and needed round-the-clock care.

Shortly after she was born doctors warned Iona-May’s mother Vicki, now 36, the youngster would not live beyond ten days.

However she defied the odds and went on to live for seven years until her death in October 2013.

Iona-May’s grandfather Nigel Thorne works in the Southern ticket office at Worthing Station.

The 54-year-old said: “When we were told Iona-May had only 72 hours left we brought her back from the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London to Worthing Hospital so she was closer to the family.

“While at Worthing Hospital we were introduced to Chestnut Tree House children’s hospice and this charity very quickly became part of the family.

“Once we were back Iona-May carried on fighting, with Chestnut offering respite care for mum Vicki.

“It also offered hydrotherapy support, days out for the family and walks through the woods – something she really enjoyed because of the noises the rustling leaves made.

“She really was the light of our lives and I cannot thank Chestnut enough for all the support throughout her too-short life.

“We also have ongoing support as a family, from birthdays and anniversary celebrations held at the hospice, to counselling or just someone to talk to.”

Mr Thorne’s colleagues at Southern and Gatwick Express, which are owned by Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) were so touched by Iona-May’s story they decided to do their bit to help.

This led to the organisations making Chestnut Tree House, based near Arundel, its charity of the year.

An initial donation of more than £1,800 has been made and there are plans for more fundraising events to come.

Southern on-board supervisor manager at Barnham Keith Hills nominated the hospice after hearing about Iona-May.

He said: “My heart goes out to the children at the hospice and their families.

“I have been blessed with healthy children but seen first hand how difficult it is when your child becomes so ill.

“I hope that we as a business can ease their pain with support over the next year.”

Drivers, station staff, engineers and office staff at GTR selected the hospice by taking part in the company’s annual employee survey and casting a vote.