Christmas season brings special gifts for “Young and strong” violinist with brain tumor


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

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

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

When they arrived at Boston Children’s, they headed to the Patient Entertainment Center, tuned their instruments and—dressed in black slacks, white shirts and Santa hats—waited onstage for Sophie’s arrival.

Sophie, the youngest of the four children of Chad and Aimee Fellows of Colchester, Vt., walked in with her parents and two sisters. She sported a t-shirt, pajama leggings and Santa hat, and a white bandage covers the IV port on her right arm. After she found her place center stage, the concert started.

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

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Sophie’s grandparents were in the audience, along with several parents of other musicians. Liliana Goumnerova, MD, Sophie’s pediatric neurosurgeon with Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, slipped in shortly after the concert started. More than one person wiped away tears as the sweet sound of violins wafted through the room.

The performance ended with Pachelbel’s Canon,” which Sophie, who has studied violin for three years, was 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.”

On December 12, Sophie had her scheduled surgery, and Goumnerova removed most of the tumor. On December 15, after reviewing Sophie’s MRI, Goumerova operated again and removed the rest of Sophie’s tumor.

Eleven days, one collapsed lung, two intubations to help her breathe, and one Christmas later, Sophie left the intensive care unit for a room on the neurosurgery recovery floor. Her family painted “Young and strong” on the window.

Pathology showed that Sophie had a pilocytic astrocytoma, a non-malignant tumor and welcome news after early suspicions of cancer. Sophie needs 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 told Sophie that thousands of people prayed for her, and she says, “Thank you very much.”

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