AN appeal to help an identical twin who suffers from cerebral palsy play with her sister is gathering momentum with more than a third of the target now reached.
Sophie and Heidi have recently celebrated their third birthday but there is one present the family want more than any other – a photo of the twins running around playing with each other in the park.
They were born prematurely in December 2009 by emergency caesarean section and spent a month on the neonatal unit at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. For the next few months both girls were doing "brilliantly".
It wasn't until Heidi started to do things a lot sooner than Sophie that the family noticed she was a little delayed with her mobility.
Sophie was subsequently diagnosed with spastic diplegia cerebral palsy when she was 15 months old. The family have now launched an appeal to raise £50,000 for an operation and aftercare they hope will "revolutionise" her life.
"To look at the girls sitting together playing, you wouldn't be able to point out which twin has the disability," said mum Gemma Down, 26, who lives in Beacon Heath with the twins' dad Daniel Case.
"It is not until Heidi gets up and runs around, and Sophie follows behind on all fours, the differences are noticed. It shouldn't have to be like this."
Sophie will wear leg splints, supportive boots and have physiotherapy for the rest of her life to manage her condition. It will never cure it.
However, the family have recently found out about an operation called selective dorsal rhizotomy. At present it is the only surgical procedure which can provide permanent reduction of spasticity in cerebral palsy and results in improvements in balance, standing, sitting and walking. It involves cutting the nerves in the lower spine which are responsible for causing muscle rigidity.
Just a few months since the appeal was launched they have already raised £18,000.
This has been helped by the support of the Co-oeprative store, of which Daniel is a manager at its Topsham store.
Gemma said: "Sophie went along to meet the regional managers from the Co-operative at a meeting where they announced they have raised £13,000.
"We were overwhelmed by this announcement and have been so very touched by all of their support they have shown us since we told them what we are doing for Sophie.
"They have managed to get 108 stores on board across the region, with posters, charity buckets and other fundraising events helping them raise £14,500 for the appeal.
"Other fundraising is being done by Sophie's nursery Kiddi Caru Day Nursery in Sowton. The Jubilee Club in Pinhoe have told us they have chosen Stepping With Sophie as their charity for 2013 and a collection was also done by the Salvation Army at carol concert.
"Everyone has been incredibly generous and we are so grateful for their support. It has been remarkable and every penny really does mean a lot and will make such a huge difference to Sophie and her future."
People can also visit www.face book.com/SteppingWithSophie to follow Sophie's journey and the appeal's progress.