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Sheffield United’s Dean Henderson and Kieran Dowell strike heartwarming friendship with brave fan battling illness

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For all of the drama associated with football, the sport has again proven that it can be a force for good and change people’s lives for the better.

One Sheffield family have revealed a touching story involving two Sheffield United players, Dean Henderson and Kieran Dowell, who have devoted their time to help one Blades fan during his battle with illness.

Harri Parker, 9, was born with a congenital heart disease and has undergone three separate open heart surgeries to try and cure the problem. The condition, known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, has prevented the lower pumping chamber of his heart from fully developing.

Harri’s story is well-known by the club and he was recently invited to be the club’s mascot, walking out with the on-loan Manchester United goalkeeper. He previously struck up a close bond with former Blades forward Caolan Lavery and has now done so with their two Premier League loanees Henderson and Dowell.

Lifting spirits

His mother Jeni told the Star: "Dean, Kieran and Caolan do so much behind the scenes with Harri. He just sees the video as three mates having a laugh, and that's exactly what it is.

"The lads are amazing, and he loves their visits. He always gives them a cuddle and tells them he loves them. In his eyes, Dean, Kieran and Caolan are his best friends, who just happen to play, or have played, for his football team.

"They sit chatting about school and his visits to hospital or Bluebell Wood. They have a laugh at each other and play computer games. It all feels very normal for Harri, which is what we try and make every day."

There have been a number of fundraisers set up in support of Harri, including from Sheffield United supporter Dave Ward after he heard about the story.

Ward said: "This is going to a challenge for me but nothing like what Harri has been through. "At just days old he underwent 15-hour open heart surgery and the surgeon lost him several times. He then had 14-hour and 12-hour surgeries and has undergone countless more, but he's a warrior and never gave up.

"Like myself, Harri is a big Blades fan and us Blades have followed his story and really took Harri into our hearts."

The actions of Henderson and Dowell have given yet another reminder of the role footballers can play in the lives of many, particularly those of a younger generation. Their time has helped a family at an unimaginable time, helping shine a light and bring smiles to faces of those less fortunate than themselves.

For the bad rap that footballers often get, the two youngsters have given a reminder that there is plenty of good left in a profession which so often reaches the front pages.