Remarkable young farmer Jessica receives a very special award from BBC show

A resilient young farmer from County Antrim has received a very special award from the BBC.

Thirteen-year-old Jessica Philpott, who lives near Kells, Ballymena, was chosen as the winner of the Ouch! Personal Courage Award.

Operation Ouch is a popular series on CBBC starring Dr Chris, Dr Xand and Dr Ronx.

The show asked for nominations for the Operation Ouch Awards, which recognise young people aged between six and 16 who are medical heroes.

Jessica is a huge Grassmen fan!

The Personal Courage Award is for children dealing with a medical issue but, despite this, are doing extraordinary things, and Jessica was nominated by Virginia Maxwell from Contact Northern Ireland.

The County Antrim girl was born with Apert Syndrome, which meant she had no fingers or toes and had swelling on her brain, as well as other complications.

In her 13 years, Jessica has undergone many operations, with the most recent being facial reconstruction surgery last April.

Since she was just three months old, Jessica has travelled to Great Ormond Street Hospital in London for her medical procedures.

Jessica with the CBBC doctors

“She really is a remarkable young lady,” mum Julie said.

“It really puts life into perspective for the rest of us.”

Julie speaks to various groups around Northern Ireland, not only raising awareness of her daughter’s condition, but also lobbying for better opportunities for people living with disabilities.

Life has been far from easy for Jessica, who is in her second year at Slemish College.

The young farmer with her BBC award

“She has missed a lot of school – this time last year she had major facial reconstruction, the biggest surgery she has ever had,” Julie continued.

“Her dad couldn’t go with us, so it was the first time I had to go to London with Jessica on my own.

“It was a 10-hour surgery. It wasn’t easy; it was the hardest thing I have had to do in my life.

“For Jessica, this has been her life, she doesn’t know anything else. She faces each surgery with such courage.”

Jessica loves helping with the lambs

Jessica and Julie spent five weeks in the London hospital and, whilst there, Jessica decided to do something to help others.

“People offered to set up a fundraising page for us, but Jessica asked if we could do something for the hospital instead,” Julie explained.

“She spoke to her consultant and found out about the Face Value project.

“They bring children from Third World countries to Cromwell Hospital where they operate on them privately.”

The doctors involved in Face Value are developing a new method which would mean a frame would no longer be needed.

“Jessica had the frame on for 10 weeks and it is quite cumbersome.”

The pair decided to purchase a limited edition anniversary teddy from the hospital shop to raffle off.

The raffle raised a fantastic £10,000 for the project.

“She is always thinking of others and looking out for them,” Julie added.

And, Jessica is always thinking about animals (and big machines) too, as she has become a very keen farmer!

“We are not farming people at all,” Julie explained, “but a few of our friends have farms and they let Jessica go along and help.

“We have friends who farm near Ballymoney and Jessica goes down to help feed the lambs and look after them.

“It all began when she started watching Grassmen. Grassmen and Tom Pemberton, that’s all she watches.

“Those guys have brought farming to the fore – they’ve made farming trendy.

“The whole perception of farming has been totally transformed.

“She has met Grassmen and they are great guys, they are very much involved in the community.

“That’s how Jessica got interested in it.”

Indeed, Jessica now loves farming so much, she decided to joined her local Young Farmers’ Club this year – Kells and Connor.

“They have been amazing with including her and getting her involved,” Julie continued.

“So many things are more difficult for Jessica but they just embrace her and get her involved in all of the activities. And she has made great friends there too.

“The Young Farmers’ Club have really embraced Jessica and others in the community and given them an interest in something.

“They organise so many things. I’ve really been taken aback by the activities they put on for their members.

“The YFC have been phenomenal in their approach.

“They have adapted things to make sure Jessica can be involved in every activity. No matter what they do, Jessica is always included and welcome,” Julie ended.

You can follow Jessica via her Facebook page, ‘Jessica’s Journey’.

Jessica in her element with a visit to Grassmen
Judging poultry at Kells and Connor YFC
Bottle feeding some lambs
Jessica with Donkey (Gareth Gault) from Grassmen