A year ago, Sophie Fellows got out of her hospital bed at Boston Children's Hospital to play in a Christmas concert held in her honor, a day before she underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor. As she played the violin with her fellow students, she wondered if she would be able to perform again.
But on Friday, Sophie returned to the hospital stage for an anniversary holiday concert, to celebrate her recovery and deliver a touching message of hope and resilience to young patients with serious health conditions of their own.
"This year is kind of a celebration," the shy and soft-spoken 10-year-old said after the orchestra concluded a medley of Christmas songs, culminating in a beautiful rendition of Pachelbel's "Canon." "It was so fun."
The concert was broadcast to hundreds of rooms at Boston Children's in hopes of providing a measure of comfort in difficult times. As the music swelled and the girl smoothly drew her bow across the strings, a sense of compassion and relief washed over the room.
"We hope it brings a little hope and light," said Sophie's father, Chad. "We're just so happy and thankful."
Last December, Sophie was stricken with a painful headache in the middle of a holiday concert, and was diagnosed with a brain tumor the next day. Heartbroken, her violin teacher and fellow students drove down from Burlington, Vt., so that Sophie could finish the concert at the hospital.
After two surgeries, doctors successfully removed the tumor, and it has not returned, her family said. While Sophie still has some problems with her vision and balance, she has made remarkable progress.
"She's doing fantastic," said her surgeon, Liliana Goumnerova, director of neurosurgery at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. "We've turned the page."
By February, Sophie had returned to her violin lessons. But on the day that Sophie returned to her studio, her teacher, Carolyn Bever learned she had a large tumor in her leg.
Her voice breaking, Bever recalled how Sophie assured her she would be fine, that things would work out. The girl brought her a soft fleece blanket for her hospital stay, like the one that had kept Sophie warm after her surgeries.
"She was rallying for me," Bever said. "She said the hospital can be cold."
Bever's tumor was removed successfully, and her scans have been clean. But her experience has only deepened her appreciation for Sophie's bravery and kindness.
"She's been through a lot," Bever said. "But she's back to her happy self."
Bever recalled that at last year's concert, Goumnerova said they should all gather the following December to celebrate Sophie's recovery. Bever clung to that idea for hope, and now it had come to pass.
Sophie's mother, Aimee, said the fear and uncertainty of last year's concert felt far away, replaced by immense relief and gratitude.
"I wish I could have had a glimpse of the future," she said. "It would have saved me a lot of worry."
On Friday, nearly 20 violinists from Bever's studio joined Sophie on stage, excited to be back in Boston for a far happier occasion. Soon their music filled the room, a sweet, aching sound that brought smiles to young patients and their parents. Through a medley of Christmas favorites, Sophie kept her eyes fixed on her strings, as her parents watched from the first row.
She seemed to grow more sure of herself with each song, and on "Sleigh Bells" she traded her violin for some bells, which she shook in time. As she clapped with her friends, her stocking hat bobbing behind her, she smiled gently.
The show ended with Pachelbel's Canon, which last year moved many audience members to tears. Chad Fellows recalled how emotional the performance was, and how, after each surgery, he wound up hearing the song again, as if by fate.
"It was really divine intervention," he said. "It really has a lot of meaning for us."
Goumnerova accompanied the young players on piano, then joined Sophie in a bow. Then Sophie raised her left thumb, like she did after her first surgery in the hospital to let everyone know she was OK.
Afterwards, Sophie smiled shyly as reporters surrounded her. She said she had butterflies in her stomach at the start, but that she wasn't nervous like last year.
"It's hard to describe," she said. She loved playing the violin so much, she said, and was worried that she might not be able to play after the surgery. But it worked out, and now she liked playing even more than before. And she hoped the other kids in the hospital liked hearing it.
"Especially at Christmas," she said.