Willie Terpstra, the Rotorua woman who underwent controversial surgery for motor neurone disease in China two weeks ago, had hoped for a quiet homecoming.
But the 64-year-old realised she was something of a celebrity when, during a stopover at Hong Kong airport last week, a family of New Zealanders came up and hugged and kissed her.

The VIP treatment continued at Auckland Airport, where she was whisked through Customs.

"She was waving to everybody, just like the Queen Mother," her husband, Rein, joked yesterday.

Mrs Terpstra, whose operation involved the injection into her brain of two million cells from aborted fetuses, had a busy weekend after arriving in Rotorua on Saturday.

On Sunday, she played nine holes of golf and yesterday she was receiving visits from family and friends in between cooking lunch and conducting interviews.

Mrs Terpstra told the Herald she was pleased with her progress but was frustrated she still found it difficult to speak. "It's a hard road."

But she was grateful for all the support from New Zealand and around the world.

"It's been amazing," she said.

Well-wishers had sent more than 6000 messages to her website. She had been expecting criticism from people opposed to the surgery, but not one message was negative.

Many inquiries had come from other sufferers of motor neurone disease and their relatives.

The Terpstras said they would recommend the surgery to anyone in the early stages of the disease.

But they did not want to raise patients' hopes of seeing dramatic improvements, especially in those in the more advanced phases.

The couple said results depended on individual expectations.

They also said conditions at the Beijing hospital where the operation had been performed were not easy. Patients needed their own caregivers and had to be ready for long delays.

There is a long waiting list for the procedure, which is banned in most countries.

Although Mrs Terpstra's speech is not as good as she would like, her condition has improved in many other ways. Her severe headaches have gone, as have cramps.