Alastair McAlpine
Alastair McAlpine, who works with terminally ill children Alastair McAlpine

A paediatrician who wanted to "move and inspire" people has brought Twitter users to tears by sharing what terminally ill children told him had brought meaning to their lives.

Alastair McAlpine works for PaedsPal, an NGO in Cape Town that cares for children with life-threatening and life-limiting illnesses. He was completing his portfolio for the palliative care diploma at the end of 2017 when he decided to ask his young patients what they had enjoyed in life and what gave their lives meaning.

The answers, he told IBTimes UK, were "incredibly wise and moving". That was a sentiment shared on Twitter after he posted some of his young patients' comments in a moving thread on Thursday (1 February).

None of the children said they wished they had watched more TV or spent more time on Facebook. Instead, many mentioned their pets or their families and often expressed concern for their parents and the effect of their illness on them.

Many also wished they had valued people who just treated them normally despite their illnesses.

Among the heartbreaking quotes were: "My real friends didn't care when my hair fell out" and "Jane came to visit after the surgery and didn't even notice the scar."

There were some sweet, funny ones too.

Most of the kids said they loved swimming, the beach, their toys and superheroes. Almost all of them appeared to value kindness above most other virtues and most particularly loved people who made them laugh.

Crucially, every single one of the terminally ill children said they valued time with their family most, that they loved books or being told stories, especially by their parents, and that they loved ice cream.

McAlpine tweeted: "Take home message: Be kind. Read more books. Spend time with your family. Crack jokes. Go to the beach. Hug your dog. Tell that special person you love them. These are the things these kids wished they could've done more. The rest is details. Oh... and eat ice-cream."

McAlpine told IBTimes UK that the answers made him feel "grateful and humbled at the privilege of working with such special humans and their families".

He also revealed that he was overwhelmed by the Twitter reaction: 5,000 people liked the initial tweet and hundreds of people thanked him for sharing. Some said they shed tears.

Author Sarah Dessen said: "This is beautiful, thank you," and vegetarian blogger and cookbook writer Nandita Iyer tweeted: "I don't remember feeling such a heartmelt and heartache over any twitter thread. Thank you, Alastair."

McAlpine said: "I did not expect the reaction. I was just tired of all the negativity and wanted to tweet something that I thought would allow people to be moved and inspired. Had no idea it would have such a reaction. It feels overwhelming!"