New Year Brings New Hope for Young Violinist with Brain Tumor

On December 5, just after the students of Carolyn Bever’s Violin Studio finish playing “The First Noel” for the residents of the Pines Senior Living Community in South Burlington, Vermont, 9-year-old Sophie Fellows quietly leaves the stage because of a headache. The next day she is diagnosed with a brain tumor, and the following day she travels by ambulance from the University of Vermont Medical Center to Boston Children’s Hospital.

“Christmas concerts are my most favorite part of violin,” Sophie says. “I felt really bad that I couldn’t finish the concert.”

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Sophie and her fellow musicians perform at Boston Children’s Hospital. Photo credit KC Cohen

The day before Sophie’s surgery, something very special happens. Two dozen young violinists travel to Boston to finish the concert with Sophie.

When the group leaves Vermont the morning of December 11, music teacher Carolyn Bever had awakened to two feet of snow in her driveway. When they arrive at Boston Children’s, they head to the Patient Entertainment Center, tune their instruments and – dressed in black slacks, white shirts and Santa hats – wait onstage for Sophie’s arrival.

Sophie, the youngest of the four children of Chad and Aimee Fellows of Colchester, VT, walks in with her parents and two sisters. She wears a t-shirt, pajama leggings and Santa hat, and a white bandage covers the IV port on her right arm. She finds her place center stage, and the concert begins.

The young violinists play “Good King Wenceslas.” They play “Silent Night,”  “Away in the Manger” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Sophie’s grandparents are in the audience, and so are several parents of other musicians. Liliana Goumnerova, MD, the pediatric neurosurgeon with Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center who will perform Sophie’s surgery, slips in shortly after the concert started. More than one person wipes away tears as the sweet sound of violins wafts through the room.

The performance ends with Pachelbel’s Canon,” which Sophie, who has studied violin for three years, is particularly disappointed to have missed playing at the earlier concert.

“It made me feel really happy,” Sophie says after the show. “It was so great to do the concert, and I’m so glad everybody came for me.”

The next day – December 12 – Sophie has her scheduled surgery, and Goumnerova removes most of the tumor.  On December 15, after reviewing the latest MRI, Goumnerova operates again and removes the rest of Sophie’s tumor.

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Sophie performs at Boston Children’s Hospital. Photo credit KC Choen

Eleven days, one collapsed lung, two intubations to help her breathe, and one Christmas later, Sophie leaves the intensive care unit for a room on the neurosurgery recovery floor. Her family paints “Young and strong” on the window. Pathology shows the girl had a pilocytic astrocytoma, a non-malignant tumor, which is welcome news after early suspicions it might be cancerous. Sophie will need no further treatment. No chemotherapy. No radiation.

“Christ is a gift to us, and Sophie is a gift to us,” says Sophie’s father, who is an optometrist. “Our whole focus this Christmas was more spiritually oriented and prayerful. It has solidified my belief in prayer and the generosity and charity of people I don’t even know.”

He tells Sophie that thousands of people prayed for her, and she says, “Thank you very much.”

On New Year’s Eve, Sophie transfers by ambulance to Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, and 2015 dawns with hopes for a full recovery. “We ask that prayers continue,” Chad Fellows says, “as we believe in divine intervention for healing and strength.”