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Life hasn't been easy in recent months for 14-year-old Sophie Tilley, but her mother says the teenager is a trooper and "will be fine" in time.
Sophie, a student in the Bryant School District, is reported to be progressing well as she recovers from a stem cell transplant she received Dec. 15 at Children's Medical Center in Dallas.
The 14-year-old is the daughter of Jason and Senna Howell and Mark Tilley, all of Benton. Initially diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the disease was in remission for several years. However, the chemotherapy she received resulted in her developing AML, a type of leukemia that was a side effect to the chemotherapy she received.
This week Sophie's spirits were lifted when she received some special visitors who were in Dallas in conjunction with Friday's Cotton Bowl game, her mother said.
"She was thrilled to meet Arkansas Razorbacks Head Coach Bobby Petrino and his wife, Becky; offensive guard Grant Cook; running back Knile Davis; and quarterback Tyler Wilson during their visit to the hospital," Howell said.
"In anticipation of their visit, Olivia, Sophie's sister, decorated Sophie's window with a giant Razorback to show support for the Hogs in their bid to win the 2012 Cotton Bowl," she said.
"We knew they were coming to the hospital and there was no way to miss the window," she added.
"Of course they're down here for the Cotton Bowl and the team that's in the Cotton Bowl always comes to the hospital to visit the children," Howell said. "They had been talking to the hospital since we got here, and we wanted them to come visit her. They're our team, and it was really nice, really cool, that she got a private, special meeting with them."
As far as Howell is aware, her daughter is the only Arkansan currently hospitalized at Children's Medical Center.
"I'm not aware that there are other Arkansas kids here," she added.
"Sophie is a big Razorback fan," she noted, "and her brother, Drew, who's 21, is big into football."
She noted that Drew is a senior at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville.
Howell, an RN with Saline Memorial Hospital's home health department, said she is looking forward to the time she can take her daughter home.
"The transplant is done just like a blood transfusion," Howell noted. "They put it in her IV, but we're still waiting for her 'cells' to come through.
"This means that the body has to accept the transplant and we're still waiting for that to happen," she explained. "They say it normally takes three to five weeks. It will be three weeks tomorrow, so it could happen at any time."
She pointed out that "a stem cell transplant is another term for bone marrow transplant."
"She has been hospitalized since Dec. 5, and I've been here the whole time. She's not anywhere near ready to get out yet."
Howell said all of the family misses being home and she misses her job.
"I miss being there," she said. "I haven't worked since Aug. 10. I'm still in the nursing pool. They've been really good to me.
"Right now Sophie is dealing with the side effects from the chemo she received," she said. "She has mouth sores and can't eat. She hasn't been able to eat in a couple of weeks, so she's on IV nutrition.
"She hasn't lost weight because she's on TPN â€” total parenteral nutrition," she said.
"She's really doing fine, and I'm OK," she said. "But I'm ready for her cells to come in and for her to be more of herself. She's on all kinds of pain medication. I'll be better when Sophie is able to eat and talk and laugh and be herself, but we're making the best of it."
Howell noted that the family has been in Dallas since early November. "We waited on the transplant to come through for several weeks, then she was admitted to the hospital on Dec. 5.
"That's a long time to be away from home," she said.
Family members have been staying at the Ronald McDonald House, she said, noting that "it is so nice."
"But when Sophie's in the hospital, I'm not leaving her. She's mine, and I'm going to be here for her.
"So for now, we're just waiting," she added.
When Sophie's cells do come through, "then we'll be able to get out of the hospital and stay at the Ronald McDonald House in a special apartment for transplant patients."
"We'll be in Dallas at least until the end of March," she said. "We're going to do fine."
A few years ago, Sophie was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, but the disease had been in remission until last summer, her mother said.
"Sophie's current situation is a result of the chemotherapy she had before," Howell explained. "It's a side effect of the medication."
SMH employees recently hosted an American Red Cross blood drawing to receive donations for Sophie.