The Duchess of Cambridge stroked Tarrawanna girl Imogen Stone’s arm as she spoke to her mother Lynda-Jane about the rare disease that will eventually take the seven-year-old’s life.
During a royal visit to Manly’s Bear Cottage on Friday afternoon, Kate leaned over and gently patted Imogen, who suffers from a neurodegenerative condition that has already taken her sight, speech and mobility.
Mrs Stone said Imogen was ‘‘quite peaceful’’ as she lay on a hospice bed during the royal encounter and later broke out into a wide smile when the small crowd clapped at Kate’s speech – the first speech of her Australian trip.
‘‘Imogen got caught up in everyone’s enthusiasm and was really happy and full of big smiles,’’ she said.
‘‘The royal visit means we’ve got something so memorable that we’ve all shared as a family and we feel quite honoured to have Prince William and Kate come here while we are staying.
‘‘Catherine was so lovely, so gracious. She was just beautiful in every way and knew exactly what to say.
‘‘We shared a really nice moment with her and she was incredibly compassionate when she talked to us about Imogen’s condition.
‘‘We will always remember this.’’
Imogen, who looked beautiful with her long hair and apricot tutu, was diagnosed at the age of three with late infantile Batten disease. She has a life expectancy of between eight and 12 years.
Mrs Stone and her husband Stephen take Imogen and her siblings Nataya, 9, Isaac, 3, and Amelie, 1, to the hospice two or three times a year for a week of respite. It’s always an amazing break for the family – and the royal visit made this stay the best yet.
‘‘We just adore the place – we feel so supported and the staff are so beautiful,’’ Mrs Stone said.
‘‘The nurses take wonderful care of Imogen and we get to meet other families in similar circumstances who we can really connect with.
‘‘And while it’s a hospice for sick and dying children, it is not a sad place. It’s a really happy place where you can relax and enjoy yourselves while the kids take part in some fun activities.’’
Prime Minister Tony Abbott, his wife Margie and new NSW Premier Mike Baird welcomed the royal couple to Bear Cottage, one of only two children’s hospices in Australia.
The duchess, who is the royal patron of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices in the UK, delighted parents, kids and staff with her speech.
‘‘The haven that you have created here is inspirational,’’ she said.
‘‘When families are confronted with the shattering news that their children have a life-limiting condition their world can fall apart.’’
The hospice, which is affiliated with the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, has supported about 600 families since it was established in 2001.