Editor's note: At OLOL Children's Hospital, we often hear from grateful families whose children's lives have been saved. So the following tribute written by a grateful mother is especially powerful and moving.
New Year's Day of 2011, our daughter, 7-year-old Bella Bowman, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. This was an answer to many months of unexplained illness. Four days later, Bella's Red Dot Story began. As Bella's parents, we explained to her that the cancer she had was a "Red Dot," and it had to be removed.
Dr. Allen Joseph and Dr. Kelly Scrantz successfully removed the Red Dot at Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital, a very risky surgery that came with many possible complications. We faced the reality that she may not be able to breathe, eat, swallow or walk on her own when her surgery was complete. Our fears were put to rest momentarily when Bella's first words after surgery were, "Is my Red Dot gone?" Once Bella recovered from surgery, she was moved to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis with which OLOL Children's Hospital maintains a special partnership. She was then moved to another hospital for radiation treatment.
Bella was declared cancer-free, but eight months later, she developed brain stem radiation necrosis, which means the radiation caused some of Bella's brain tissue to die, a rare side effect of the treatment. Bella underwent 60 hyperbaric oxygen and additional chemotherapy treatments; sleep studies and physical, speech and occupational therapy from August to December 2011, traveling back and forth from Baton Rouge to Memphis.
Mid-December 2011, Bella was returning home from St. Jude when she began choking and having difficulty breathing. I called OLOL Children's Hospital and Bella was admitted that evening. In less than 48 hours, her abilities to swallow and breathe were so compromised; she was put on a ventilator and admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit. A brain scan showed that she had suffered a stroke. The team of physicians realized that the radiation necrosis in her brain stem was irreversible and nothing more could be done. Doctors did not know how much time she had left, but wanted to provide what I like to call "comfort care."
The care Bella received from her physicians, nursing staff and the childlife specialist team at OLOL Children's Hospital was no less than perfect care.
While in the PICU, the nursing staff did all they could for Bella. They brought in fingernail polish for a mini spa day and had Bella's kitten from home visit for a short time. Bella's ability to communicate was diminished because of the ventilator and damage to her brain stem. So a nurse taught her basic sign language so she could communicate with us. She taught her things like, "Mom, Dad, I love you" and much more.
As with most 8-year-old girls, Bella loved princesses, Cinderella in particular. When it was decided that Bella would be taken off the breathing machine, oncologist Dr. Emma Jones decided Bella was going to meet Cinderella before we did this. Dr. Jones found an elaborate Cinderella costume which a nurse from the pediatric oncology unit wore and visited Bella. Bella was so excited she set off the pressure alarms on the ventilator. With the help of other team members, Bella was then treated to a family Christmas Princess party.
Bella was taken off the breathing machine and moved to a room where we could spend more private time together. Her room was transformed by her nurse to look almost exactly like her room at home. Her blankets, all of her dolls and toys and many other comforts were brought in and set up for Bella. We were able to be right next to her just as we would have if we did not have to be in the hospital.
Bella had always wanted to receive communion. A Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Sister got special permission for Bella to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion in her hospital bed surrounded by family and friends.
Our Lady of the Lake Foundation team members also heard about Bella and her love of princesses. They arranged for Bella to receive a visit from Louisiana's own version of a princess, Miss Louisiana Hope Anderson, who flew into Baton Rouge from Monroe within 24 hours. Wearing her crown and in full pageant regalia, she visited with Bella and placed a real crown on Princess Bella's head.
I'm not sure who got more out of this continuous outpouring of love: Bella, us, or the caregivers at OLOL Children's Hospital. As a family, we are forever grateful.
Bella's unique way of giving back to the world was indescribably amazing. She gave belief, hope, strength and faith to so many even when her little body was failing. Even in the toughest of times Bella never lost her faith and was a source of encouragement and strength to all those around her.
Within five days of removing the ventilator, Bella passed away in her daddy's arms with me beside her. Although Bella is physically gone from us, her kind, loving, strong, sweet spirit continues to live on in our memories of her and the lives she touched. The unity that Bella created will live with us forever.
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At Our Lady of the Lake Children's Hospital our patients and their families are cared for with dignity, respect and compassion - where advanced pediatric medical treatment is delivered with sincere love, affection and appreciation for children and their special needs.