A FAMILY is hoping to raise £65,000 for an operation that could save their young daughter from a lifetime in a wheelchair.

Sophia Aitken, two, from Farmers Close, Witney, has a form of cerebral palsy known as spastic diplegia that causes her to suffer pain and spasms in her legs.

She cannot walk without a frame and will need an operation to remove faulty nerves in her spine if she is to ever walk independently.

The operation is not available to two-year-olds in the UK and so the family are raising money to send Sophia to Missouri in the US.

Sophia’s mother, Tara Harris, 42, said: “She is such a little fighter and the spasms and pain she is suffering breaks my heart. She wants to run around and join in with other children but she can’t.

“If she does not have this operation she will probably end up in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.”

Sophia was born eight weeks premature and, after Ms Harris noticed problems with her legs, was diagnosed when she was 18 months old last August.

Ms Harris said: “I could not believe what I was hearing. We had been trying for her for five years.

“To have her, we felt like we had been given a miracle and to then be told your daughter is disabled... we spent a lot of time coming to terms with it.”

Ms Harris and Sophia’s father, Andrew Aitken, 35, an engineer, cancelled their marriage and stopped their home extension midway through.

Ms Harris, who gave up her job as a teaching assistant in Carterton, said: “We had to stop everything and plough everything into Sophia.”

The surgery will cut away damaged nerves in Sophia’s spine which are currently blocking messages from her brain to her legs.

The family has already contacted the hospital in Missouri, which pioneered the operation, and families who have been through the same procedure.

Ms Harris said: “The surgeons in America have predicted that Sophia will not only walk unaided but will also be able to take part in recreational activities.

“It is possible to have the operation here but we found out they do not look at children until they are four years old, and then there is a minimum of 18 months assessment.

“If we do not get this operation as soon as possible her legs will be so badly deformed the operation will not be worth doing because she would still need a lifetime of corrective surgery.”

The family need £45,000 for the operation and a further £20,000 for rehabilitation.

They began fundraising six weeks ago and have already raised more than £20,000.

The family will hold a ceilidh in Langdale Hall, Witney, from 7.30pm on July 5 to raise further funds.

To donate, visit justgiving.com/Sophias-stepping-stones