A YOUNG girl is a picture of health - after surgeons took her skull apart and pieced it back together like a jig-saw.

Sophie Campbell, four, was born with a rare condition, called craniosynostosis, which caused the bones in her skull to fuse too early. It left her with an abnormally shaped head and no room for her brain to grow.

Doctors warned her mother, Fiona, that, without a risky eight-hour operation at a year old, she would suffer permanent brain damage. She also needed major surgery in January this year when a painful spinal condition almost left her paralysed from the waist down.

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But despite spending her whole life in and out of different hospitals, Sophie is like any bright, active little girl.

"To see her now you would never know there was anything wrong," said Mrs Campbell, 31, from Dingwall, Ross-shire. "She's a totally different child. It's only when you look at photos of her before that you notice the shape of her head is different."

The strain of having to put her daughter through the operation, where surgeons had to cut her skull from ear to ear in a zig-zag pattern, saw Mrs Campbell's weight plummet from nine stone to six in a matter of weeks.

The nursery assistant said: "They had to pull down the front of her face, break the plates and take out her eyebrow bone, reshape it and put it back together. She had six nuts and bolts in her head, which dissolved, and 120 stitches."

The operation took place at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow three days before Sophie's first birthday.

She was then transferred to the intensive care unit at nearby Yorkhill Children's Hospital. But her nightmare did not end there.

Every night she would wake up screaming in agony and it was only last year, when she was able to talk, that her mother discovered it was because her legs were sore. Doctors were unable to find anything wrong, and even tested her for leukaemia.

Mrs Campbell said: "She was falling over an awful lot but because of her phobia of hospitals the doctors couldn't do a proper assessment on her."

In the end she needed three general anaesthetics to carry out tests before doctors finally discovered she had a tethered spinal cord. This meant the nerves in the spine were being stretched so much that it was causing severe pain in her legs.

Mrs Campbell said: "When we went to Edinburgh [Sick Kids Hospital] they said she had to have the operation or she would lose the use of her legs."

The two-hour operation on her spine went ahead in January this year. Now all Sophie has to show for her ordeal is a tiny scar on her lower back and a scar on her head, which is only visible if she holds her hair up.