“My dream is to walk.”

They are the words from little Sophia that bring a tear to her mummy and daddy’s eyes because the reality is they never imagined her wish would ever be possible.

She was born three months prematurely weighing just 2lb and 14oz and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

But little Sophia, seven, will this year undergo a lifechanging operation which could enable the youngster to take her first steps.

However the operation comes at a cost, and with physiotherapy and after treatment could reach £70,000.

Today her ex-Saints star dad Nicky Banger and mum Stephanie have embarked on a fundraising drive and are appealing to Daily Echo readers to help their daughter – and other children stand tall.

The Bangers, who set up the Sophia’s Make a Child Smile Foundation to help disabled children, have less than three months to raise the amount before Sophia jets off to America for the pioneering surgery that will relax her leg muscles, allowing her to walk on her heels.

Sophia’s condition spastic diplega means she is confined to a wheelchair most of the time.

Doctors and specialists in the UK had always said Sophia would be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.

But the family became hopeful of treatment overseas after meeting a similar little girl through Bishopstoke ’s Megan Vernon, who had also undergone the “miracle” op in the USA after a fundraising appeal in the Daily Echo .

They prepared a file for the St Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri and heard she is suitable for the operation called Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy.

The major procedure can reduce muscle stiffness in the legs, as well as cramps and spasms allowing her limbs more freedom to move.

Children require extensive physiotherapy but it is predicted Sophia will be able to walk with crutches.

Dad-of-two Nicky, who made more than 60 appearances for Saints said: “You can never give up hope.

“When we were told we had been accepted for the op, it was lifechanging. Everything is going to be different in the sense of what the potential could be. I’ve never actually seen Sophia stand tall. In seven years we have never seen her stand at the height she should be so that is going to be a huge first.

“For us it is about the independence this operation will give Sophia, walking is a biproduct of that. For her to be able to transfer herself in and out of a wheelchair is incredible.

“It is emotional and it is doing the simple things as a family that I am really excited about.”

He added: “As her dad I just want her to be the best she can be. I want her to have a fulfilling life and to get the most out of it and as parents know that we have done the most we can to help her.”

To get involved in fundraising for Sophia go to sophiasfootsteps.co.uk If the family surpass their target, extra funds will help another child have the same operation in the USA.