Girl’s harrowing journey defies deadly odds

By Marie Szaniszlo  - Boston Herald

Sunday, May 9, 2010


That Easter, five weeks ago, began like any other for Bella Tucker: with an egg hunt alongside her cousins.

The 8-year-old Londonderry, N.H., girl had been looking forward to it all week. But as the day wore on, she developed a fever and chills, and went to bed early with what her parents thought was the flu. 

bella_on_slideHer stepfather, Peter Roarty, gave her some Tylenol and a cold compress. But by 5:30 a.m., she had a 103-degree fever, and her hands and feet were cold. 

Roarty rushed her to Parkland Medical Center in Derry, N.H., where doctors said she needed to be transferred to Children’s Hospital in Boston 

“We said, ‘Should she go by car or by ambulance?’ ” Roarty remembered. “When they said, ‘By helicopter,’ that’s when we knew it was bad.” 

What followed was an ordeal none of them could have imagined, a harrowing journey that would bring the budding gymnast to the brink of death - and change her life forever. 

At Children’s Hospital, Bella’s temperature peaked at 105.8. Doctors intially thought she might have meningitis but, two days later, diagnosed her with streptococcus pneumoniae sepsis, a rare form of pneumonia that didn’t pose a risk to her classmates at South Londonderry Elementary School, but had stopped the flow of oxygen to her extremities. 

Roarty Googled the disease and found what doctors had tried to spare him: The survival rate was only about 10 percent. 

“Minute by minute, she got worse,” her stepfather said of the medical ordeal. “They all thought she wasn’t going to make it.” 

After five days in a drug-induced coma, Bella survived. But survival came at a cost: the infection had caused tissue damage so extensive that on April 27, the third-grader and budding gymnast underwent quadruple amputation surgery. Doctors amputated her right arm up to her elbow, her left arm up to her mid-bicep, and both legs. 

On Friday, she underwent her fourth surgery, and more are to come. Doctors have told her parents it will be months before she is able to leave the hospital, and more months of rehabilitation as she adjusts to life with prosthetic limbs. 

“Sometimes she’s sad; she doesn’t understand why this happened to her,” her mother, Selena Roarty, said. “But she’s a strong little girl. We have no doubt at all she will overcome this.” 

“We don’t want to tell her she can’t do anything,” she said. 

While her stepfather takes care of her four brothers and sisters, her mother and her father, Richard Tucker, have made sure at least one of them is with her around the clock. 

Insurance so far has paid most of Bella’s medical costs. The family’s living expenses have been paid for largely with their savings and other people’s generosity. 

People in Londonderry already have raised about $10,000 for the family, and much more will be needed to make their house wheelchair-accessible. 

“We’re very thankful,” her stepfather said, beginning to cry. “We’re just so happy she’s alive.”

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