AUGUSTA -- The 10 year-old Valdosta girl battling Eastern Equine Encephalitis is improving, doctors said Wednesday.

Jennifer Tucker has been upgraded from critical to serious condition in the pediatric intensive care unit at the Medical College of Georgia Hospital in Augusta.

"She's still got a long way to go, but the doctors and family are still glad to see it," said Danielle Wong, spokesperson for the hospital.

The swelling in the girl's brain is receding and she has started limited physical therapy, her mother, Jeannie Tucker, said. Though still largely unconscious and on a respirator, Jennifer is showing steady signs of improvement, her mother said.

"I joked with my children that it's like (the doctors) said, 'You've had a three-week vacation. Now it's time to get back to work,'" she said of the physical therapy.

The recovery process will be a long one, but doctors said they may be able to replace her skull plate in a couple of weeks. Jeannie Tucker said it is still too early to tell what after-effects Jennifer will show from the stroke she suffered. She said doctors believe Jennifer may have to start from the ground up, relearning basic skills, though she is hopeful for a long-term recovery.

"Just having the chance to wait and see is a blessing, she said.

"I think everything that can be done is being done. We've still got a long road of recovery ahead. This is where we'll find out who our true friends are. If our road to recovery is anything like what we've traveled so far, it will be a good journey."

Jeannie Tucker said the outpouring of support for Jennifer both in Valdosta and Augusta has been touching.

"These people have been here for us like you would not believe. Most were total strangers, some who I can say now are our friends. It's coming from the heart. She's receiving get-well cards from all over the country, get-well wishes and phone calls, but none of it tops the prayers."

In Valdosta, friends of the family are working to help give support. The Jennifer Tucker Fund has been established at the Valdosta City School System's Credit Union, 1215 Slater St., 247-9930. Donations will be used to assist the family with medial expenses and other costs associated with their present situation. Contact Barbara Carter, Southeast Elementary School counselor at 333-8535 for information.

Jeannie Tucker said she was thankful for the support and asked that people keep the family in their prayers.

"They say that God doesn't put more on you than you can bear. He put this on us, and we're bearing it well, due in part to God himself and all the prayers that are sent out to us and for us and all the people caring about us," she said.

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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