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Spinal muscular atrophy patient more mobile with new stem-cells
A fan club of about 15 people armed with flowers and balloons eagerly awaited Sierra Journey Factor's arrival from China on Saturday at Melbourne International Airport.
But after air sickness on a 16-hour flight and adjusting to the 12-hour time change, the Titusville 8-year-old slept soundly through the hugs and happy tears.
Her return to the United States was bittersweet.
"She's never had as much freedom as she did there. She was sad to leave," said Sierra's father, A.J. Factor. "She made a ton of friends, 'got married' and had such a good time. She cried hard when she had to tell everyone bye."
Sierra spent 34 days in Qindao, China, receiving stem-cell injections as a possible treatment for spinal muscular atrophy.
Shaylene Akery, Sierra's mom, said the family had stocked up on stylish pink and purple princess face masks because the next few months are critical.
"If Sierra gets severely sick over the next six months, it can actually kill the stem cells," said Akery, wearing a jade necklace with Chinese characters for luck, power and long life.
Sierra's grandmother, Tonya Witt, said she watched Sierra's improvements as they chatted over a webcam every day.
"Her neck control was the biggest thing I noticed," Witt said. "And I saw her pick her left foot off the bed. It was really amazing."
Sierra's family paid $36,000 for cell injections largely through donations from Brevard County residents. The treatment is not available in the United States.
When Sierra arrived in China, she was tested on her range of motion, appetite and head and neck control. She was tested again after 34 days of treatment and saw improvements in every area. Sierra's family plans to return to China in two years for additional stem-cell treatments.
"It was overwhelming for all of us," said Sierra's father. "But just to see her improve was worth everything."