Five-year-old Brendan Schmanski swings his legs from an airport chair, waiting.
It's been more than a month since he has seen his parents and his sister, Tori, who are about to return from a 32-day trip to Hangzhou, China, where Tori, 16, has undergone stem-cell treatment in an effort to bring back more of the sweet and charismatic girl her family knew two years ago.
They're here and Brendan beelines it to the elevator and smothers his family with kisses.
"It's been a long trip," said Tim Schmanski, Tori's father, tearing up. "But hopefully we'll see some improvements."
Now they're home, worn out after 44 hours of traveling but happy to reunite with friends and family.
Their stay on the 20th floor in the Beike Clinic of the Xioshan Hospital mixed Tori's stem-cell treatment with aggressive physical therapy, acupuncture and electronic muscle treatment, all in an effort to reduce some of the effects of Tori's brain damage.
The Schmanskis' world changed on June 19, 2005, when Tori went without oxygen for more than 25 minutes after being trapped in a submerged vehicle that flipped into a canal in a car accident. Tori's anoxic brain injury has taken away her mobility, her speech and her ability to eat.
More than a month ago, the Schmanskis discussed what they hoped to see as results of the China trip, including more effective communication, better control of her body and improvements in eating. Already, they've seen progress in Tori's condition.
"Tori's flexibility and joint range is greatly improved," Tim Schmanski said in an e-mail interview from China. "Whether that is purely a result of the physical therapy or a combination of physical therapy and the stem cells is really unknown."
Her ability to eat food by mouth and her mobility have improved as well. She has more control of her arms, particularly her right one.
"She even held a cookie and brought it to her own mouth for a bite. She definitely could not do that prior to this trip," Tim Schmanski said, adding that Maria Schmanski believes Tori is also more responsive and quicker to react.
This is what Maria Schmanski said she had hoped for before the journey to China.
"I hope it helps," she said in a Jan. 5 interview. "I don't expect a miracle. Even just something little, like eating better or communicating more."
They are hoping for even more improvement in the two- to six-month period following the stem-cell treatment. Tim Schmanski said that is when most patients see the best results.
"We want to hear meaning from her voice, perhaps a definitive 'Mom' or 'Dad,' 'yeah' or 'no,"' he said, adding that they also hope to see more improvements in muscle control.
It won't stop at waiting to see the effects of the treatment, either. Tim Schmanski said they plan to continue acupuncture and electronic muscle treatment and may try a second round of hyperbaric oxygen chamber treatment.
They might even go back to China a second time if they see positive results.
"Whether it is for the stem-cell treatment she received this time (adult stem cells taken from an umbilical cord) or for some other types that are becoming available now and that I am researching, I don't know," Tim Schmanski said.
At the airport, Maria Schmanski said more than anything, she was simply grateful Tori had the opportunity."It was a privilege that she was able to go there and get this treatment," she said. "There's so many people that can benefit from it. It was fortunate she was able to go."
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