She was told she’d never walk. But that didn’t stop her… This is 10-year-old Sophia Banger’s story and her battle with Cerebral Palsy.
By Samantha Everett
Pulling on her mum’s hair Sophia screamed “why did you do this to me? This is how much I hate you!” It was day three of the operation and she had to be moved to her wheelchair after surgery, causing her excruciating pain. With a bashful smile she described how bad she feels looking back at it. “It was just so painful.”
The condition made her muscles extremely tight. It prevented her from placing her feet flat on the ground and left her wheelchair bound. “It was frustrating as I couldn’t walk, or join in with sports at school.” Even the simplest of tasks were affected, “I couldn’t cut my food properly and it affected my speech.”
After being rejected for treatment twice in the UK she was told she’d never walk. But she wouldn’t give up. After raising £60,000 with her family, Sophia was accepted to have selective dorsal rhizotomy surgery in America when she was seven. The procedure involved cutting nerves in her lower spine that were responsible for muscle rigidity. “It was the only surgery we strongly believed in.”
She spent a total of five weeks in America, undergoing endless operations and physiotherapy sessions. The worst part of it was removing the catheter… “like ripping off a plaster really slowly.” But it all paid off when she awoke for the first time after surgery: “I could wiggle my toes.”
Sophia’s now ten and her inspiration is her mum, Stephanie (39), who sits proudly opposite her. “She always stays positive, and even though she hasn’t been through what I have, she understands it.”
He biggest achievement was with Mark: her physiotherapist in Wales. “He’s like a second father to me.” Her voice quickened describing how “he makes it fun, whenever I say I’ll try he makes me shout: I can, I will! And on my first session with him I took my first two steps by myself.” Softly she added, “I know it only seems little, but to me it was a big achievement.”
Another source of motivation for Sophia is her school friend, Jack Joslin (10). After a small giggle, her brow furrows… “Jack was on holiday, playing football, and then he was violently sick; when he got home they diagnosed him with cancer.”
“When you look at all he’s been through – a life threatening condition – compared to what I’ve been through (I’m not saying that it’s easy) it keeps me positive.” Sophia’s eyes light up as she describes how Jack is now in remission, which she is “over the moon with!” Not only is Sophia doing a sponsored silence for Jack but she is also running the Race for Life for him, which she did last year. Well, almost…
Last July Sophia participated in the annual fundraiser to support Jack. She was determined to complete the last kilometre unaided using only a frame. With every step leaving her in agony she grinned as she reached the pink carpet. But it wasn’t the end. With 50 yards left she was exhausted and couldn’t manage it, so turned to her mum to carry her the last stretch. “I will finish it by myself this year” … supported, of course, by a large group of friends.
Perhaps Sophia’s most unusual friend yet is Winter – a female dolphin. After reading about Winter’s prosthetic tail Sophia was desperate to meet her. “She’s a mammal version of me!” After being caught in a crab net Winter lost her tail and two vertebrae. “I felt an instant connection with her.” Sophia was then inspired to start swimming herself – even if she does have to wear armbands.
In her spare time she attends 4th Ramalley Guides. Despite being less able than the others, she loves going away on trips and playing games. She’s also passionate about wheelchair basketball, having scored 9 baskets in her first session. “I’m going to be committed.” Her next goal is to fundraise for a sports wheelchair to help her play basketball more successfully.
It’s been three years since the operation and Sophia can now walk around a supermarket by herself, get up the stairs, and walk into school. Although some professionals are doubtful she’ll ever walk properly, Sophia believes she can and she will. “I think I will; mum, dad and Harvey think I will. I really want to prove them [the sceptics] wrong.”