LONDONDERRY — Bella Tucker was enjoying the warm afternoon on the farmer's porch of her Lantern Lane home Monday. She texted a friend and asked her mom if she could go over to her friend's house for a while.
"How much homework do you have?" Selena Roarty asked her daughter before agreeing to the visit.
While this would be a conversation any parent of a 9-year-old would expect after a day at school, this particular exchange is quite extraordinary.
One year ago, Bella was fighting for her life in Boston Children's Hospital.
Bella became ill on Easter Sunday last year and was rushed to Boston with a life-threatening illness, streptococcus pneumonia sepsis, that resulted in quadruple amputations. She spent months at Children's and then Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, also in Boston.
Today, the South Londonderry Elementary School fourth-grader is back with her classmates and adjusting to a busy schedule of doctor's appointments, rehabilitation, swimming and just being a kid.
As her parents and four siblings kept vigil by her bedside last spring, the entire Londonderry community rallied around them. Multiple fundraisers were held, a website set up, a collection started at her school, and a group of architects and builders began renovating Bella's home for her return on Nov. 10, 2010.
When Bella arrived home last fall, just in time for the holidays, she found a completely renovated house with an addition built to accommodate her daily life. Her room was done in her favorite shade of blue.
Bella joined her fourth-grade class part time after coming home, and now is back for full days of school except for the two mornings she attends physical therapy.
When asked what her favorite subject in school is, Bella does not hesitate.
"Math," she said.
And being the sensitive child she is, Bella asks, "What was yours?"
She is quick to laugh and beams as the photographer quizzes her on multiplication tables — and she gets them all right.
Her mom said Bella, once a budding gymnast, never looks back with regret, but only forward.
"The guys at Next Step (Orthotics and Prosthetics) have said they have never seen such a quick improvement on anybody in all their days," Roarty said.
At school, Bella loves to paint using her right arm, which has more flexibility than her left arm for now. She also uses her right arm to text friends and play games on Facebook, which her parents monitor.
Bella has been fitted with prosthetic legs and a left arm at Next Step Orthotics and Prosthetics in Manchester. She has begun walking in school with the help of a therapist, now that she also has life-like feet as well.
"I got some new sneakers," Bella said.
"They're like hers," she said pointing to her 4-year-old sister Lola's feet.
Bella is very independent, her mom said. She will try to figure out how to do things without help from her parents or siblings.
"One day, I went to her room, and there she was, sitting on her bed with a big grin," Roarty said. "She figured out how to transfer out of her wheelchair by wriggling out of the seatbelt. This was a huge step for her."
South School principal Linda Boyd said Bella maintains a positive attitude, and is quite independent and determined.
"She participates in everything the fourth-graders do during the school day," she said. "She also likes chorus."
On Fridays, Bella looks forward to swimming lessons in the pool at Northeast Rehabilitation in Salem.
Last month, Bella and her family were invited to New York City for a weekend of fun, courtesy of Mark Magarity and the Torch Foundation. They saw "Mary Poppins" on Broadway and attended a gala black-tie dinner.
As Roarty and her husband Peter Roarty expected, the local benefits and fundraising for Bella have dwindled. But Bella will need continuous medical care and adjustments to her prosthetics as she grows.
"She's already had to have her leg prostheses changed twice since the fall," said Peter Roarty, Bella's stepfather.
Both Selena and Peter Roarty volunteer at South School while juggling Bella's schedule, their own jobs as flight attendants with JetBlue and caring for four more children.
The family is planning a Ride for Bella on July 10. The details haven't been firmed up yet and those interested can visit bellatucker.org for more information.
"She still amazes me every single day," Selena Roarty said. "Just the way she looks at things in a different way now is so beautiful."
By Suzanne Laurent