HENDERSON COUNTY — "Can we wake you up sweetie?" Steve Arnold gently asks of his sleeping daughter, Lizzy. "A lot of people want to see how you're doing."
She may be tired, but at least Lizzy Arnold is at peace.
Attacked and left for dead by a man she had allegedly dated, the 24-year-old suffered serious brain damage more than a year ago.
When we first met Lizzy in a nursing home back in November, the only thing she could communicate was agony. But her parents remember their talented daughter as a kind soul who had aspirations of a singing career.
In an effort to bring that Lizzy back, the Arnolds took their daughter to Mexico just before Thanksgiving for an experimental brain stem cell transplant. Progress has been slow, as doctors predicted it would be.
"We were warned that we wouldn't see anything for at least the first 60 days," Steve said.
"But we've seen progress," added Leslie Arnold, two months after the treatment. "She has a lot more expression. She's not in pain any more. She's a lot more alert. She's more responsive."
"We see her moving her limbs around; we see her trying to communicate with us," Steve continued. "If you call her name, she opens her eyes, she responds to you as best she could, under the circumstances. She didn't do that before."
Those new (and appropriate) responses include annoyance when dad Steve starts the daily rehab ritual.
Lizzy is now being cared for at home, in her own bedroom, surrounded by all the things she loves most — including her parents, who would give anything now for a sign.
"Just something small," Leslie said. "A smile."
"It is hard," she added. "Sometimes it's overwhelming. But we're just blessed to have her here with us, and we'll just do whatever it takes to have her recover."
Steve and Leslie Arnold say they are realistic. They know it may take several bank-account-draining stem cell treatments to see more improvement. They don't expect Lizzy to rise miraculously from bed and start walking, talking, and singing overnight.
But the Arnolds still hope, with time and effort, their daughter's story has a happy ending.