HER dream was to stand tall and walk on her own.

Little Sophia Banger was born three months prematurely weighing just 2lb and 14oz and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy – a condition which makes it very painful for her to move around.

But now the seven-year-old has taken her first steps unaided just days after having a life-changing operation in America.

Sophia, who is now striding out on a treadmill, was able to fly to the USA for the treatment thanks to kind-hearted members of the community who helped her parents raise nearly £60,000.

Now she is having intensive physiotherapy to improve her strength.

Her parents, ex-Saints player Nicky Banger and his wife Stephanie, have spoken of their joy at seeing their little girl walk.

Just two weeks after the operation they have met with the surgeon, who said he is so impressed with the youngster’s improvements that he predicts that one day she will walk completely unaided. Speaking from the States, mum Stephanie, from Chandler’s Ford, said: “How can you thank someone enough for giving your little girl these opportunities and see her life change in front of your eyes? The whole thing has been overwhelming and the room today was filled with smiles and grins and tears of joy.

“From what the doctor has seen in her today he believes she has a really good chance to walk unaided.

“The fact that she has movement in her feet and toes, and that she naturally tries to walk heel-toe on a treadmill, instead of flat feet, really makes him think that she will be walking one day.

“I cannot tell you how I feel about this, words fail me. My mum came into the appointment with us, and we both came out a blubbering wreck. To hear these words come from Dr Park himself, to see his face, we know this is achievable, we know that with intense hard work there is a chance that Sophia will in fact be able to walk unaided. This really is a dream come true.”

Sophia’s family, who have previously helped dozens of children with disabilities in the area, launched their fundraising drive Sophia’s Footsteps back in August to make it possible for her to have the selective dorsal rhizotomy, which relaxes her leg muscles so she can walk on her heels.

Before the operation Sophia’s condition spastic diplega meant she was confined to a wheelchair most of the time. When she walked, her legs turned inwards, causing her to walk on her toes.

Doctors and specialists in the UK had always said Sophia, who goes to Hiltingbury Infant School, would be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.