TWO devoted great-grandparents are launching an appeal to raise £40,000 for a pioneering operation that would enable their treasured great-granddaughter to walk for the first time.

Ann and Brian Richardson, from Colwall, near Malvern, have pledged to help their family raise the cash by the start of July so that six-year-old Sophie Thompson can have a selective dorsal rhizotomy operation that could completely change her life.

At 16-months-old Sophie was diagnosed with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, meaning she is unable to walk without help.

At the moment her legs are in splints and she has to use a walking frame to get about or a wheelchair if she needs to travel any distance.

Sophie lives with her family in Poole, Dorset, but enjoys coming to visit Mr and Mrs Richardson in the shadow of the Malvern Hills.

When they heard there was an operation that could potentially help Sophie walk, play and be more independent they were determined to do all they could to help.

Dorset Health Authority is unable to fund the highly specialised surgery, which was pioneered in the USA and is only offered at Bristol’s Frenchay hospital on these shores.

The cost of the surgery and subsequent physiotherapy and equipment required is estimated to be at least £40,000 and Mr and Mrs Richardson are doing all they can to help Sophie’s campaign reach that amount.

“It is hard enough for a young family managing a child with a disability, let alone being told that they need to raise £40,000 to help them to walk,” said Mr Richardson. “The surgeon has said she is an ideal candidate for the special surgery because she is so positive in her outlook and has a wonderful determined attitude.

“Her courage and determination has enabled her to attend school and is managing to keep up with her grades. She is also just within the age range for this operation.”

Mr and Mrs Richardson are spreading word of Sophie’s campaign locally and have been helped by Colwall business Artwork Creative Ltd, which has produced posters and flyers.

If Sophie’s family reach their target, they want any extra raised to go to the charity Tree of Hope to help other children in a similar position.

Anyone who would like to make a donation can visit or send cheques (marked Sophie Thompson on the reverse) directly to Tree of Hope.