Bella Tucker's smile is as big as her spirit is strong, even after the 8-year-old underwent a quadruple amputation.
On Easter Sunday, Bella, a completely healthy third grader, got sick and only got worse.
Days later, she was taken by helicopter to Children's Hospital, where she was diagnosed with strep-pneumonia.
“The doctors told us when we got there that night, they didn't expect to see her alive the next morning,” said Selena Roarty, Bella’s mother.
Bella made it, but the infection stopped her blood from getting to her hands and legs.
A month later, doctors were forced to amputate all of the young gymnast's limbs. News that could cripple a parent, didn't discourage Bella's mother.
“I'm just happy she's alive. When they told us this is what might happen, in the beginning it didn't really faze me because she is alive,” said Roarty.
Now, Bella is being fit for prosthetics while her family is shuttling between the hospital and home, working to reconstruct their entire house to meet her medical needs.
They've received tremendous support from the community, employers, and Bella's school.
Everyone wants to see her recover.
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A member of the Phantom Gymnastics team, Bella spent five days in a coma but miraculously survived her bout with Streptococcus Pneumonia sepsis. She is currently undergoing rehabilitation at a Boston hospital and preparing to return to school this fall, as her family updates their home to adapt to her new needs.
Deeply touched by Bella's story and spirit, Weeden began selling bracelets on his Facebook page, mostly networking with friends, family members and coworkers at Grappone Toyota in Concord, where he has worked as a manager for the past four years. Around that time, someone suggested planning a benefit motorcycle ride in Bella's honor.
"We picked a date right then and there," Weeden said.
Traveling to Laconia for New Hampshire Bike Week over Father's Day weekend, Weeden passed out fliers, alerting other Granite State motorcycle lovers of the upcoming event.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Last Sunday's benefit bike ride boasted 213 riders on 142 motorcycles, and brought in upwards of $12,000.
Event supporters met at Burgundy's Billiard Room in Derry early on the morning of July 11, with all 142 motorcycles making their way to Alton Bay and back over the course of the day in a ride lasting approximately three hours. Weeden asked participants to donate $25 per bike and $10 per passenger.
Others, who preferred traveling on four wheels instead of two, helped in other ways: registering bikers, overseeing the many raffles and the parking area, and cooking a barbecue supper for the returning bikers on Sunday evening.
"The donor list of raffle prizes is just tremendous," said Weeden, noting that over 40 donors provided the 50-plus raffle prizes.
Local police officers from throughout the region volunteered their time to escort the cyclists, with Salem Police Officer Michael Verocki leading the police escort, along with officers from Londonderry, Methuen, Mass., and the New Hampshire State Police.
The classic rock band Roadhouse provided entertainment following the ride. Weeden said the band was determined to perform despite a major setback to the lead singer just one week earlier. "He suffered a heart attack on July 4," Weeden said. "But he vowed to come out that day; the story just touched his heart."
Plans are already in the works for another Bella's Ride next year, if need dictates. "We'll make it even larger than this one," Weeden said.
Just three weeks after undergoing massive surgeries to remove her right arm to her elbow, her left arm to her bicep and both legs, 8-year-old Bella Tucker has learned to text message with her nose, to clap with her elbows and to hold her bingo marker in her mouth.
“What we tell her is that she will be able to do anything,” said mom Selena Roarty outside Boston’s Children’s Hospital on Friday. “Ride her bike, go back on the trampoline, go back to her gymnastics team. They’re waiting for her. . . . She wants to come home.”
A little more than a month ago, life for the Tucker-Roarty family of Londonderry, N.H., revolved around baseball, soccer, gym meets, homework, and a mother and stepfather juggling their JetBlue [JBLU] flight attendant schedules. At bellatucker.org, you can see Armando, 15, Tristan, 14, Joshua, 10, Lola, 4, and Bella laughing and goofing it up for the camera.
Then, on Easter Sunday, Bella, a third-grader and aspiring gymnast, began running a fever. By the time her stepfather, Peter Roarty, came home from work, Bella was sweaty, struggling to sleep and complaining of cold feet. When Roarty touched them, they felt “dead cold, not alive cold,” he said. He rushed her to the local hospital, which immediately rushed her via helicopter to Children’s.
“They pulled me into a little room,“ said Bella’s mother. “They told me her situation and made it clear my child could die from this.“
“This” was streptococcus pneumonia sepsis, a rare pneumonia that had already damaged Bella’s extremities and was attacking her organs.
“I just wanted to take her place,” Selena Roarty recalled. “I just wanted her to say, ‘Mommy.’ ”
But Bella remained in a coma for five days. Four days passed before doctors assured the Roartys and Bella’s father, Richard, that their child would survive, but without her limbs. Selena and Richard explained this to the child the night before surgery.
“She didn’t understand,” Selena said. “ ‘Why do doctors have to take them?’ she asked. ‘Why did this happen to me?’ ”
Several surgeries later, Bella is learning to live a drastically transformed life.
But the future is daunting. She will need extensive rehab, then weeks in a Philadelphia facility learning to use prosthetics. Her stepfather and mother are insured, but they are paid only when they work. Even with JetBlue flight attendants donating extra shifts, that has meant a big dent in the Roartys’ income on top of worries about how to be with Bella, plus work and care for their other children. Most close family lives in California.
Then there’s the cost of a needed elevator for Bella (about $30,000) plus a retrofitted bathroom for thousands more.
This is where the Londonderry community has done all it can. One neighbor donated the cost of YMCA after-school care for Joshua. Kiddie Academy donated day care for Lola. Others have volunteered to pick up and drop off the children, to daily deliver home-cooked meals and staples so the Roartys need not rush to the grocery store. Fund-raisers include a car wash at Muffler World, a kick-a-thon at the American Kenpo Academy and an upcoming concert.
“No, I don’t think this is unusual,” said across-the-street neighbor Tammy Kozlowski, who’s coordinated much of this.
But Bella’s mother - who only moved to Londonderry two years ago - is clearly stunned by her town’s support, and emotional when she talks about it.
“I don’t know what I’d do without my community,” she said.
Said her husband, “We are very grateful, and very lucky.”
Donations may be made to the Bella Tucker Fund at P.O. Box 199, Londonderry, N.H., 03053. For more information, go to bellatucker.org.
By Margery Eagan - Boston Herald
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Fundraising continues for Londonderry third-grader
LONDONDERRY — A kick-a-thon fundraiser for South Londonderry Elementary School third-grader Bella Tucker, who has been seriously ill since Easter Sunday, is being planned at the American Kenpo Academy at 150A Nashua Road on June 5 at 3 p.m.
Bella, 8, has been at Children's Hospital in Boston since April 4. She was in a coma for five days after contracting a life-threatening infection caused by streptococcus pneumonia sepsis. The infection caused extensive tissue damage and, on April 27, Bella had to have quadruple amputation surgery. She has undergone three surgeries and is facing two to three more. Then she will begin a long rehabilitation process before returning home.
"It will be four to six months before Bella can come home," said Tammy Kozlowski, a close family friend. "There is a lot of work to be done on her family's home to make it handicap accessible."
Kozlowski said a ramp is not a possibility because of the way the house is built. The only option is an elevator on the outside of the home.
"We got an estimate from All-Ways Accessible and it would be about $30,000," Kozlowski said. "We are also seeing if we can get a van donated."
Ben Loi, South School's assistant principal, said the school has been keeping parents informed of Bella's progress "in a sensitive manner."
"We are also still collecting donations in our main office," he said. "People can drop off a check or cash for the Bella Tucker fund."
Cheryl Haas, a South School PTA mom with two daughters who attend the American Kenpo Academy, approached owners Peter and Kara Tessitore to see if they would hold a fundraising event for Bella.
The Tessitores lost their oldest son at the age of 19 and Peter said martial arts has helped them keep a positive attitude, and redirect their anger and sadness with the stress of everyday life.
"That's why I want to do this for Bella," Tessitores said.
For more information on the kick-a-thon, call 425-0085. Kozlowski has set up a Web site with information on Bella and a fund to help her family. Visit www.bellatucker.org.