09/09/18 — Jernigan turns corner after bone marrow transplant

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Jernigan turns corner after bone marrow transplant

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on September 9, 2018 7:20 AM

The Southern Wayne High School student who has been undergoing treatment since being diagnosed with cancer, coupled with a recent bone marrow surgery, received some good news this past week.

The road so far has been riddled with setbacks and challenges, says her mom, Sandy Thornton.

Sarah Jernigan was diagnosed with hypodiploid acute lymphoblastic leukemia in March.

The 17-year-old required chemotherapy and was on track for the transplant earlier in the summer until learning the cancer had returned.

Another round of intensive chemo was prescribed, which proved successful as she was pronounced in remission in mid-August. The surgery was back on and scheduled for Aug. 23.

The family had also learned that Sarah's 13-year-old sister, Savannah Jernigan, was a match for the bone marrow.

While the surgery was a success by all counts, there have been "so many issues" in the two weeks since, Thornton told the News-Argus.

From an infection to medication changes, it has been a bumpy road, the mother of four said.

Between the monitors and frequent checks by doctors and nurses throughout the day and night, the silver lining was that Savannah has done well.

"She's still a tad bit sore -- the doctor said she should be recovered in a week," Thornton said earlier. "She was able to go to school but she can't do strenuous exercise or activity."

The bittersweet note was that Thornton wasn't able to be there when the eighth-grader returned to class at Mount Olive Middle School.

"Out of four kids I have never missed the first day of school," Thornton said. "She understood but it still broke my heart."

Sarah also felt the pang of being hospitalized when school resumed.

"She wanted to go to school. She wanted to walk in with her friends," Thornton said.

It will admittedly be a long recovery for the teen, but their hopes were bolstered this week.

Thursday marked Day One of "engrafting," she said -- which essenially means the bone marrow is starting to take root and grow.

"These are all the signs of healing," Thornton said. "She still feels bad but I just want to have a party. I'm so happy. I'm ecstatic."

While taking it day by day, the news has been encouraging, she said.

Even when Sarah got a fever.

Usually, that signals a sign of infection, Thornton explained, but in this case, it means Savannah's bone marrow is kicking in and getting to work.

Thornton has not left her daughter's side since the operation, she said. When the news appeared to be improving, and Sarah's dad arrived to stay with her, Thornton left the hospital and went to Ronald McDonald House. When Sarah called and expressed concern that she had a fever, Thornton's response was reassuring.

"I said, 'It's good because that means Savnnah's helping you fight now -- sit back and let Savannah take over,'" Thornton said.

The siblings, though very different in many ways, are bonded beyond what either could have ever imagined.

"As they say, they're one person now," their mother said.