Isabella McCune can’t leave the hospital to see Taylor Swift in concert, so Swift came to see her instead.
The Grammy winner, 28, paid it forward Saturday, taking a break from her Reputation Stadium Tour rehearsals in Glendale, Arizona, to visit McCune, an 8-year-old fan who has found strength in Swift’s music after she was severely burned in a fire pit explosion on St. Patrick’s Day.
“Taylor took time out of her busy, busy schedule and sat down on the bed next to Isabella,” her mother, Lilly McCune, tells PEOPLE on the phone from the Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix. “She brought her a bag with goodies from her tour. She said she had to meet her because she was so inspired by her story and honored that her music helped her.”
Even better, Isabella got a hug she’ll never forget.
“When she was leaving, my daughter asked for a hug and Taylor turned around and said, ‘Absolutely — I didn’t want to hurt you,’” says Lilly. “They hugged and it was so heartfelt. I knew it meant a lot to Isabella.”
Though Isabella has been vocal about her love for Swift — her mother tells PEOPLE that her favorite song is reputation cut “…Ready for It?” — she had no idea Swift was coming until she saw her walk into her room in a hospital gown.
“She was so shocked! She was speechless. She was so happy,” says Lilly. “We were hoping for it but we didn’t want to get her hopes up. When we found out, we felt it was best to keep it a secret.”
Making the experience even more touching for the McCune family — including Isabella’s dad JD and brother Zachary — was meeting Swift’s parents.
“Her parents came too and they were the sweetest people, and it meant so much to my husband and me as parents,” says Lilly. “We have so much respect for them and how they raised her.”
In the seven weeks since Isabella’s nightmare began, the brave child has undergone 11 operations, including skin grafting on the 50 percent of her body that was burned.
“The hardest part is to hear and see her in pain,” Lilly says of her little girl. “When she coughs, it hurts her back. Coughing, yawning or sneezing is painful. Going to the bathroom is excruciating. The simplest things we take for granted are so painful for her. She’s been so strong. I don’t know where she gets the strength from.”
Through all the challenges in the hospital, Swift’s music has been playing in the background and providing inspiration on the young fan’s path to recovery.
“Isabella has to go through painful, horrific dressing changes,” Lilly tells PEOPLE. “During the changes, the staff has been asking how they can help her deal with her pain, something that would distract her. She said if she were to listen to Taylor Swift music, it would be a good distraction. So they turn on the music for her.”
Eventually, word got around that Isabella wasn’t a casual fan, but rather a devoted Swiftie.
“The times that she was in conscious sedation, where she was given the medication but not aware what was happening,” says Lilly, “she would be singing all the words out loud and asked them to turn up her music.”
According to the thankful mother, the “Delicate” singer became aware of Isabella’s story because of all the attention it’s getting on social media.
“The news media heard about it and interviewed [Isabella] and she was asked if she would like to meet Taylor,” Lilly explains to PEOPLE. “Then the staff started to say that Taylor Swift should come to the burn center. People started sharing it on social media, and then Taylor and her mom found out about it. It was important for Isabella to tell Taylor how much her music means to her. She wanted to tell Taylor the difference she’s making in her recovery.”
Isabella can’t make it to the debut of Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour at the University of Phoenix Stadium on Tuesday, which Swift has been teasing on social media, but the chart-topper is determined to make it up to her.
“Taylor extended an invitation to her to come to a show whenever she’s ready,” says Lilly.
For now, Isabella has Swift’s hits to comfort her.
“I believe she will continue to listen to her music and it will give her strength,” shares Lilly. “The music will have such a deeper meaning to her now.”
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