On Sunday, April 4 eight-year-old Bella Tucker was running around her aunt’s garden and grabbing all the hidden Easter eggs she could find before her brothers and sister could get to them.
Three weeks later little Bella Tucker had her arms and legs removed in a quadruple amputation after a vicious infection rapidly spread throughout her fragile body.
On Easter Sunday Bella and her four siblings took advantage of the beautiful weather and spent most of the afternoon outdoors hunting for Easter eggs and having lots of fun.
After an hour or so of giggles Bella began to feel sick. She asked her mom Selena Roarty could she go inside the house.
This was very unlike Bella -- she was always so active and full of fun.
“We couldn’t figure out why Bella wanted to go inside. It was such a beautiful day and not like her to do so,” said Peter Roarty, Bella’s stepdad who lives in Londonderry, New Hampshire with his wife Selena and the five children.
Peter’s parents, John and Bridge Roarty, are very active in the Irish American Center in Mineola, Long Island.
Bella crawled onto the couch and spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping it off.
“We came back to the house in Londonderry and Bella still wasn’t feeling any better. The symptoms she was showing were that of the flu,” recalled Roarty, a flight attendant with Jet Blue.
As the night progressed Bella’s fever got worse, and a dose of Tylenol wasn’t taking it away.
“She complained of being thirsty a lot of the time but it wasn’t until she said her feet were cold that I realized something was seriously wrong,” recalls Roarty.
After wrapping Bella’s feet in a blanket, Roarty felt her hands and was very surprised to realize they too were cold.
Roarty, whose parents hail from Co. Donegal, immediately took Bella straight to the Parkland Medical Center in Londonderry. Doctors immediately suspected meningitis.
“Bella started turning purple almost immediately, and that really worried us,” said Roarty, who was dating Selena for seven years before they tied the knot earlier this year.
Bella was immediately transferred via helicopter to the Children’s Hospital in Boston.
“We realized the extent of the seriousness at this point,” recalls Roarty sadly.
Doctors at the hospital spent the next several hours trying to save Bella’s life.
“They were amazing there,” said Roarty. “They were focusing on saving her life organs like her heart, liver and lungs and they did.”
Doctors gave little hope for this third grader’s survival, but after five days in a coma she miraculously pulled through.
Bella spent another seven days on a life support machine.
It was a few days after Easter Sunday that doctors discovered that Bella had Streptococcus Pneumonia Sepsis with DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulation). Her blood became septic and spread like poison throughout her small body.
“Bella’s immune system wasn’t able to fight it off because her spleen is smaller than normal,” explained Roarty.
Life took a shocking turn, and Roarty and his family were just about coping.
“We really had to go day by day. It was very difficult,” he said.
“But most of all we were happy that Bella was going to live.”
Unfortunately, her survival from this infection was not without significant cost. The infection caused extensive tissue damage, and on April 27, Bella underwent quadruple amputation surgery.
She is currently facing an extremely long and hard recovery with extensive rehabilitation to follow, as she learns to live life without her limbs.
“As one doctor said, life before limbs. Yes it was difficult, but at that point we had to prepare ourselves and prepare Bella for what was to come,” Roarty said.
“Bella initially had all four limbs removed the first day. At first they cut up to the knees but they weren’t sure how much they could leave until they cut into the tissue.”
It took another seven operations to remove the infected limbs.
“She had a mid bicep on her left hand and her right hand removed up to the elbow and her legs up close to her hips. They just had to keep going higher and higher,” added Roarty.
Bella is coping rather well with what she has been through.
“Of course she has her moments. When you are being poked and prodded all the time it can get very frustrating, and being stuck in a hospital bed is hard, but when her family and friends are around she cheers up a lot,” said Roarty.
Bella, who was a gymnast and loved school, enjoys the company of her friends and recently learned how to type a text message using a pen in her mouth.
Bella is also exceptionally close to her siblings Lola, 4, Josh, 10, Tristan, 14, and Armando, 15.
“The kids have been great with Bella and she loves having them visit in the hospital. It brightens up her day,” said Roarty.
Recently Bella was allowed to spend time with all of her siblings together in the garden outside the hospital.
Selena and Peter plan to have a family game night once a week, and Selena will make her special taco dinner that Bella has requested every week since the beginning of her stay in the hospital.
Last week Bella was transferred to the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston to begin her road to recovery, but was back in the Boston Children’s Hospital within 24 hours because she got pneumonia.
“It was a setback but it’s very important that her health is at it’s best before she goes onto the next stage,” said Roarty.
After a month or two in Spaulding Bella will be transferred to Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia where she will learn to use prosthetic limbs and get back on her feet again.
“We don’t know exactly when she will receive the prosthetic limbs, but when she is released from Boston she will learn how to use models and go from there,” Roarty said.
The cost is mounting for the Roarty family. Their home in Londonderry will need extensive modifications to accommodate a wheelchair.
Selena, who is also her primary insurance holder, must be by her side during the extensive rehabilitation process and therefore she will be unable to work (she is also a flight attendant with Jet Blue), causing the family to lose significant income.
Since her mother will be with her during this process, the family needs funds for daycare of their other children. Lastly, she will be faced with medical challenges for the rest of her life.
Several fundraisers have been held in New Hampshire for Bella, and two have been organized for the New York area.
The first one is at Manhattan bar Blue Ruin, located on 538 Ninth Avenue, on Friday, June 18 from 8-11 p.m.
A second benefit if planned for Saturday, June 19 at the VFW in Lynbrook, Long Island from 7-11 p.m.
When Bella is in full recovery Roarty and his family plan to go to Ireland to visit the home of his parents.
“I go over there all the time, but Selena and I have been planning to bring the kids someday and my parents have a house there so we look forward to it,” said Roarty.
Donations can be made to the Bella Tucker Fund via the PayPal link or by mail to the Bella Tucker Fund, P.O. Box 199, Londonderry, New Hampshire 03053.
For more information on Bella Tucker and how to donate log onto www.bellatucker.org