THE parents of a three-year-old boy who died during an emergency operation have paid tribute to their ‘cheeky, smiling boy’.

Finlay Jason Pilkington, who was born 13 weeks prematurely, was left unable to vomit as a result of a procedure carried out when he was just six months old.

The youngster, who was due to start nursery school this month, had been making good progress before he became poorly and died within 24 hours of being taken ill.

His parents, Jay and Lauren Pilkington, from Padiham, described Finlay as a ‘cheeky, smiling boy who was loved by everyone he met’.

Mr Pilkington said: “The last few days have been the most horrendous time ever. We’re just trying to get through. He was such a happy boy, always smiling.

“He had a cheeky little grin that he wore everywhere he went. It was enough to make anyone smile.

“I will always remember his laughter and his smile. He got really well with all the kids, especially with his sister.

“Ashleigh always referred to him as her best friend and I think that’s how we all felt.”

Finlay weighed just 1lb 10oz when he was born and needed a portable oxygen tank to help him breathe for the first 15 months of his life.

Aged six months, he underwent a Nissen fundoplication, a procedure which uses the top of the stomach to strengthen the sphincter so it is less likely to allow food, drink or acid to travel back into the foodpipe.

After a relatively trouble-free 18 months, Finlay was taken ill on August 21 with a bloated stomach and suffering from constant retching.

He was rushed to Leeds General Infirmary but died at around 11.45pm as surgeons battled to save him.

Mr Pilkington said: “Finlay has a troubled first few months. Because he was born 13 weeks early he had all the usual issues with weak lungs.

“He was in hospital for the first 13 months of his life and didn’t start walking until four months ago.

“Because he couldn’t be sick, that’s what resulted in all the pressure that made him bloated. His tummy was like a rock and we knew there was something wrong.

“We took him to the community care doctor and they said to get him in an ambulance as soon as possible. There were less than 24 hours between his symptoms showing and him dying.

“He had been making absolutely brilliant progress and was being discharged from most of his treatments.”

Jay and Lauren, a former Padiham Green CE Primary School and Gawthorpe High School pupil, moved to Leeds six years ago, where Jay worked for British Gas.

The couple had been planning to move to a new home in Burnley Road with Finlay, his sister Phoebe, five, his half-sister Ashleigh, 12, and his half-brother Mason, eight, later this month.

They are currently receiving support from Lauren’s parents, Anne and John, of Cumbrian Way, Padiham, ahead of Finlay’s funeral at Burnley Crematorium on Wednesday.

Mr Pilkington said one of his favourite memories of Finlay was a royal visit to the Leeds hospital in March 2012.

He said: “The Countess of Wessex officially opened Leeds Children’s Hospital and it was just amazing to see Finlay touched by royalty.

“She remarked on how beautiful his eyelashes were – every woman who saw him said they were jealous of his eyelashes.

“He also had a really special bond with his great-grandad, Sep Ridehalgh, who passed away on August 4.

“The last few weeks have been so difficult. It’s not something that any parent should have to go through and I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

“Finlay’s life was challenging but we did what had to be done and I wouldn’t have changed him for the world.

“His death is the worst feeling I have ever experienced. We were waiting in the room that we expected him to come back to but the doctor came down in the middle of the operation and said they had done all they could.”