'My gladiator lay down his shield': Toddler Alfie Evans dies in Britain

LONDON, April 28 (Reuters) - Alfie Evans, the 23-month-old British toddler whose grave illness drew international attention, died early on Saturday, his family said.

Alfie had a rare, degenerative disease and had been in a semi-vegetative state for more than a year.

After a series of court cases, doctors at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool removed his life support on Monday, against his parents' wishes.

He confounded expectations by continuing to breathe unaided for days, but died in the early hours of Saturday, his parents said.

"My gladiator lay down his shield and gained his wings at 02:30 absolutely heartbroken," the boy's father Tom Evans wrote on Facebook.

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A young girl stands with a supporter of Tom Evans and Kate James, the parents of 20-month-old Alfie Evans, outside Liverpool Civil and Family Court during a hearing related to their dispute with medics looking after their son at Alder Hey Children's Hospital. (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)
Supporters of Tom Evans and Kate James the parents of 20-month-old Alfie Evans, outside Liverpool Civil and Family Court during a hearing related to their dispute with medics looking after their son at Alder Hey Children's Hospital. (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 13: People protest outside Alder Hey Hospital where terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans is being cared for on April 13, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Tom Evans and Kate James, the parents of Alfie, are preparing a fresh request to Court of Appeal judges to allow Alfie Evans to continue to receive treatment at the Bambino Gesu hospital in Italy. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 13: Tom Evans, the father of terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans, speaks to the media outside Alder Hey Hospital where Alfie is being cared for on April 13, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Tom Evans and Kate James the parents Alfie are preparing a fresh request to Court of Appeal judges to allow 23-month-old Alfie Evans to continue to receive treatment at the Bambino Gesu hospital in Italy. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 13: Tom Evans, the father of terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans, holds up a court order as he speaks to the media outside Alder Hey Hospital where Alfie is being cared for on April 13, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Tom Evans and Kate James the parents of Alfie are preparing a fresh request to Court of Appeal judges to allow 23-month-old Alfie Evans to continue to receive treatment at the Bambino Gesu hospital in Italy. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 13: Tom Evans, the father of terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans, speaks to the media outside Alder Hey Hospital where Alfie is being cared for on April 13, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Tom Evans and Kate James the parents of Alfie are preparing a fresh request to Court of Appeal judges to allow 23-month-old Alfie Evans to continue to receive treatment at the Bambino Gesu hospital in Italy. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 13: People protest outside Alder Hey Hospital where terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans is being cared for on April 13, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Tom Evans and Kate James, the parents of Alfie, are preparing a fresh request to Court of Appeal judges to allow Alfie Evans to continue to receive treatment at the Bambino Gesu hospital in Italy. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Supporters of seriously ill British toddler being kept alive on a ventilator Alfie Evans demonstrate outside Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, northwest England, on April 16, 2018 as Court of Appeal judges hear an appeal against a decision to allow doctors at the hospital to stop treating the toddler on the basis that he can't be saved. Alfie Evans, who is 22 months old, has a rare degenerative neurological condition which has not been definitively diagnosed. His parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, have fought a legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, northwest England, from turning off his ventilator -- which would quickly end his life. Doctors at Alder Hey have said life-support treatment should stop because further treatment was futile. This was accepted by Britain's High Court and upheld in the Court of Appeal and then in the Supreme Court -- the ultimate court in Britain. / AFP PHOTO / Paul ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of seriously ill British toddler being kept alive on a ventilator Alfie Evans demonstrate outside Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, northwest England, on April 16, 2018 as Court of Appeal judges hear an appeal against a decision to allow doctors at the hospital to stop treating the toddler on the basis that he can't be saved. Alfie Evans, who is 22 months old, has a rare degenerative neurological condition which has not been definitively diagnosed. His parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, have fought a legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, northwest England, from turning off his ventilator -- which would quickly end his life. Doctors at Alder Hey have said life-support treatment should stop because further treatment was futile. This was accepted by Britain's High Court and upheld in the Court of Appeal and then in the Supreme Court -- the ultimate court in Britain. / AFP PHOTO / Paul ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture shows a sign outside Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, northwest England, on April 16, 2018 where seriously ill British toddler Alfie Evans is being treated. Alfie Evans, who is 22 months old, has a rare degenerative neurological condition which has not been definitively diagnosed. His parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, have fought a legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, northwest England, from turning off his ventilator -- which would quickly end his life. Doctors at Alder Hey have said life-support treatment should stop because further treatment was futile. This was accepted by Britain's High Court and upheld in the Court of Appeal and then in the Supreme Court -- the ultimate court in Britain. / AFP PHOTO / Paul ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of seriously ill British toddler being kept alive on a ventilator Alfie Evans follow live news reports on their devices outside Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, northwest England, on April 16, 2018 as Court of Appeal judges hear an appeal against a decision to allow doctors at the hospital to stop treating the toddler on the basis that he can't be saved. Alfie Evans, who is 22 months old, has a rare degenerative neurological condition which has not been definitively diagnosed. His parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, have fought a legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, northwest England, from turning off his ventilator -- which would quickly end his life. Doctors at Alder Hey have said life-support treatment should stop because further treatment was futile. This was accepted by Britain's High Court and upheld in the Court of Appeal and then in the Supreme Court -- the ultimate court in Britain. / AFP PHOTO / Paul ELLIS (Photo credit should read PAUL ELLIS/AFP/Getty Images)
People brought candles, banners and mascottes in front of the British Consulate to support Alfie Evans. Krakow, Poland on 25 April, 2018. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People gathered in front of the British Consulate to support and pray for Alfie Evans. Krakow, Poland on 25 April, 2018. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 24: General view of gifts left outside Alder Hey Children's Hospital on April 24, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Earlier today, Tom Evans the father of seriously ill, 23-months-old, Alfie Evans has said his son is breathing unassisted after the toddler's life support was turned off on Monday. Ventilation was withdrawn after Alfie's parents lost the most recent appeal in a legal battle between his parents and health officials. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
People brought candles and banners in front of the British Consulate to support Alfie Evans. Krakow, Poland on 25 April, 2018. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People brought candles, banners and mascottes in front of the British Consulate to support Alfie Evans. Krakow, Poland on 25 April, 2018. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Banners in front of the British Consulate to support Alfie Evans. Krakow, Poland on 25 April, 2018. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People brought candles, banners and mascottes in front of the British Consulate to support Alfie Evans. Krakow, Poland on 25 April, 2018. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People brought banners in front of the British Consulate to support Alfie Evans. Krakow, Poland on 25 April, 2018. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People brought candles, banners and mascottes in front of the British Consulate to support Alfie Evans. Krakow, Poland on 25 April, 2018. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People brought candles, banners and mascottes in front of the British Consulate to support Alfie Evans. Krakow, Poland on 25 April, 2018. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People gathered in front of the British Consulate to support and pray for Alfie Evans. Krakow, Poland on 25 April, 2018. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Tom Evans, Father of Alfie Evans, speaks to media outside Alder Hey Children's Hospital on April 26, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Tom Evans the father of seriously ill, 23-month-old, Alfie Evans has said he will meet with doctors to discuss taking his son home. The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling preventing Alfie's parents taking their son for treatment to Italy. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
Candles, banners and mascottes in front of the British Consulate to support Alfie Evans. Krakow, Poland on 26 April, 2018. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Candles in support of Alfie Evans are seen outside at Alder Hey Children's Hospital on April 26, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Tom Evans the father of seriously ill, 23-month-old, Alfie Evans has said he will meet with doctors to discuss taking his son home. The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling preventing Alfie's parents taking their son for treatment to Italy. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
A bus passes balloons and posters left in support of British toddler Alfie Evans, on a bus-stop opposite Alder Hey childrens hospital in Liverpool, north-west England on April 26, 2018. - Alfie Evans, who is 22 months old, has a rare degenerative neurological condition which has not been definitively diagnosed. His parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, have fought a legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, north-west England, from turning off his ventilator. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Children look at flowers and tributes to Alfie Evans left outside at Alder Hey Children's Hospital on April 26, 2018 in Liverpool, Englan (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: Tom Evans, father of Alfie Evans, speaks to the media outside Alder Hey Children's Hospital on April 26, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Tom Evans, the father of seriously ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans, has said he will meet with doctors to discuss taking his son home. The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling preventing Alfie's parents taking their son for treatment to Italy. (Photo by Anthony Devlin/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Supporters begin to gather outside Alder Hey Hospital after terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans died at 2:30am this morning on April 28, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Alfie's life support was withdrawn on Monday after his parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, fought a long legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, north-west England, from turning off his ventilator. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Supporters begin to gather outside Alder Hey Hospital after terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans died at 2:30am this morning on April 28, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Alfie's life support was withdrawn on Monday after his parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, fought a long legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, north-west England, from turning off his ventilator. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Floral tributes begin to arrive outside Alder Hey Hospital after terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans died at 2:30am this morning on April 28, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Alfie's life support was withdrawn on Monday after his parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, fought a long legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, north-west England, from turning off his ventilator. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Supporters begin to gather outside Alder Hey Hospital after terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans died at 2:30am this morning on April 28, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Alfie's life support was withdrawn on Monday after his parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, fought a long legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, north-west England, from turning off his ventilator. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Supporters begin to gather outside Alder Hey Hospital after terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans died at 2:30am this morning on April 28, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Alfie's life support was withdrawn on Monday after his parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, fought a long legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, north-west England, from turning off his ventilator. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Floral tributes begin to arrive outside Alder Hey Hospital after terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans died at 2:30am this morning on April 28, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Alfie's life support was withdrawn on Monday after his parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, fought a long legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, north-west England, from turning off his ventilator. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: A young girl looks at floral tributesto Alfie Evans outside Alder Hey Hospital after terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans died at 2:30am this morning on April 28, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Alfie's life support was withdrawn on Monday after his parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, fought a long legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, north-west England, from turning off his ventilator. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Floral tributes begin to arrive outside Alder Hey Hospital after terminally ill 23-month-old Alfie Evans died at 2:30am this morning on April 28, 2018 in Liverpool, England. Alfie's life support was withdrawn on Monday after his parents, Tom Evans and Kate James, fought a long legal battle to stop the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, north-west England, from turning off his ventilator. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
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"Our baby boy grew his wings tonight ... Thank you everyone for all your support," his mother Kate James wrote.

Medical experts in Britain had agreed that more treatment for Alfie would be futile, but his parents wanted to take him to Rome, where the Vatican's Bambino Gesu hospital had offered to care for him.

A British court rejected an appeal by the parents on Wednesday to take their son to Italy.

The case stirred strong feelings over whether judges, doctors or parents have the right to decide on a child's life. Alfie's parents were supported by Pope Francis and Poland's President Andrzej Duda.

"I am deeply moved by the death of little Alfie. Today I pray especially for his parents, as God the Father receives him in his tender embrace," the pope tweeted on Saturday.

(Reporting by James Davey, with additional reporting by Gavin Jones in Rome Editing by Andrew Heavens/Mark Heinrich)

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