Courtesy: Londonderry Times
A lot has changed for Bella Tucker since she last laid eyes on her family's Londonderry home.
After falling ill with an intense fever last Easter, the 9-year-old South Elementary School student was airlifted to Boston's Children's Hospital, where she was diagnosed with streptococcus pneumonia sepsis - a disease, often fatal, that can cause body-wide inflammation and dangerously inhibit circulation.
Bella was placed in an induced coma for five days, and ultimately lost her limbs to tissue damage she endured during her coma.
Though she survived the infection, her struggle to reclaim her mobility had only begun: Bella would need to train her muscles and "relearn" how to move around, both with and without prosthetic aids - learn how to stretch, paint, throw objects and move around outside of her wheelchair.
As a result, Bella's step-dad, Peter Roarty, and her mom, Selena Tucker, faced a challenge of their own: how to afford expensive upgrades to their home in order to make it wheelchair accessible for their daughter.
"Yeah, it's been a tough time, but after everything (Bella's) gone through, it's really hard to complain about anything," Roarty said. "Especially her attitude - she's got high spirits, a great sense of humor."
Her can-do worldview caught on: driven by the power of the internet, local media and neighborly compassion, over 300 volunteers contributed money, time and resources to build an addition to the Tucker/Roarty home valued at over $350,000 - without a single cost to the family.
Those funds were donated above and beyond the thousands already raised by local students, family and friends.
Londonderry resident and Suffolk Construction executive Tony Nigro, who has a daughter Bella's age, first heard about the family's case through a family friend and a neighbor of Bella.
"Originally, it was just supposed to be an elevator, maybe a bathroom" Nigro laughed.
Instead, Nigro teamed up with Derek Felix of Blackdog Builders and Keith Boyle of the design firm Cube3 to create an addition that more than doubled the size of Bella's home, adding such amenities as a physical therapy room, hands-free accessories that range from toilets to intercoms, and a $30,000 elevator donated by Otis Elevators.
Bella's physical therapy room, built on the home's main floor, has a flat screen TV with the same Nintendo Wii fitness games Bella played in the hospital, with open spaces for accessibility and a treadmill for physical therapy.
"One day, obviously, we'd love to see her on this treadmill," Nigro said.
That room leads to a handicap-accessible bathroom - with a hands-free toilet, sink and even hair dryer - and a newly remodeled kitchen that emphasizes open space and low counter-tops.
"This way, Bella can still do chores, just like her brothers and sisters," Nigro joked. The companies took care to add some other amenities to the home so Bella's siblings didn't feel left out, including a basketball hoop for her older brothers and a redecorated room for her sister.
But the real gem of the project was Bella's new bedroom and bathroom - a spacious area with a walk-in closet, wheelchair-accessible bathroom, adjustable desk and a number of style guidelines proposed by Bella herself.
"She selected the blue in this room, indicated that she wanted polka dots, and that her favorite animals were monkeys and turtles," Cube 3 CEO Nicholas Middleton said. "From that, we made the makeover room."
The home also includes a number of HEPA filters and top-of-the-line climate controls, which organizers said would help keep the home an extremely clean environment.
After just over three months of grueling work, the team unveiled the home to the family - who had been living in a hotel since September - during a large Sunday block party to celebrate Bella's return.
Though Bella was unavailable for a comment on the emotional day, she waved to the cheering crowd as she rolled up the new pathway and wheelchair ramp to her home, while cheerleaders from the local elementary schools cheered her on.
Roarty said the response from the community - a town in which he and his family have lived only a couple of years - was "overwhelming."
"We're overwhelmed by what a phenomenal job they did," he said, adding he never thought anything like this would happen to his family. "The community, the neighbors, everybody...it's been a completely overwhelming experience.
"It's been a rough year, but we're really looking forward to 2011," he concluded.
Bella's mom addressed the crowd to thank their supporters before the family returned to their home, and saved her final words for Bella.
"And there's one more person I want to thank: you, Bella," she said. "You are the bravest little girl I know, and in some ways, every single person out there has learned something from you."
For more information, visit: http://bellatucker.org.