THREE-year-old Sophia Aitken has been given the best present ever thanks to more than £70,000 of donations – the ability to walk.
The Witney toddler was born with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy, which caused her to suffer pain in her legs.
And it meant she could not walk without a frame.
In October, she flew out to Missouri in the US with her parents Tara Harris and Andrew Aitken to have an operation to remove the faulty nerves in her spine.
Now she is back and, although she faces months of physiotherapy to build up her strength, she can stand unaided and has already taken steps.
The operation is not available in the UK on someone as young as Sophia and her parents were concerned that if they did not act, she would face a life in a wheelchair.
A website set up to donate to the cause has seen family, friends and strangers donate £69,255.51 in just a few months, but Miss Harris has also been stopped in the street in Witney by people wanting to hand her cash.
Miss Harris, 42, said: “The whole general public who have helped us on this journey, I do not think they realise how much of a gift they have given to our daughter.
“I don’t think there are words to explain how we feel about this. I want to say more than thank you to all those wonderful people who helped us.”
The family flew out to the St Louis Children’s Hospital on October 13 and Sophia underwent the three-and-a-half-hour operation four days later.
Miss Harris said: “We were feeling quite nervous beforehand, thinking, are we doing the right thing? But when we arrived it was amazing.
“The morning after we arrived, we went in to meet Dr Park and the team and had everything explained to us. They took any worry we had away immediately.”
But the couple, who cancelled their wedding and stopped a home extension to help finance the operation, still had a nerve-racking wait while their daughter underwent the operation.
Miss Harris said: “Afterwards, we ran down to recovery, both very emotional to see her.
“Obviously there were wires everywhere and she was still asleep, but it was amazing to have her back. “All we kept saying was: is she all right? “They said everything was perfect. It was a very successful operation.
“When she came around, the first thing she did was ask for sandwiches. She had no idea she had just had this huge procedure done on her.
“But for the first time ever, her feet could move up and down at the ankle and, where her legs were rock hard masses of muscle before, they were soft. We had tears running down our faces – it was unbelievable.”
The family flew to their home in Farmers Close on November 13 and Sophia is now having two hours of physiotherapy five days a week. She celebrated her third birthday earlier this month.
Miss Harris said: “She is amazing. She is able, if she concentrates, to stand independently for the first time ever. “At nursery recently, she took 26 independent steps.
“At the moment, she is still getting very tired very quickly because she is working muscles that she has never worked before, but the fact she has taken these steps and can stand on her feet is a miracle to us.
“She is telling everyone: look at me, I can stand. “Hopefully, give it a year or two and she will be able to walk completely on her own.
“We have still got a big journey to go and this is a long battle, but we have given her the biggest start ever.”