Isabella Rice, who goes by Bella, recently spent 71 days in the hospital, where she fought of a host of illnesses while in a medically-induced coma, with her mother, Caran Rice, of Hiram, by her side each day and night.
It all began October 1, when Bella Rice was bent over with stomach pain.
“It felt like I had really bad tummy cramps,” she said.
After a round of ultrasounds and x-rays, “it showed that her spleen was enlarged,” Caran Rice said.
The next day, Caran Rice was told her daughter’s body had leukemic cells. Bella Rice was started on her first round of chemotherapy for acute lymphoblastic leukemia that week.
“I was very scared, obviously,” said Caran Rice, whose older sister’s son, Braylon, was diagnosed with leukemia at only a few months old and died right after his second birthday.
Then, on March 10, Bella Rice had a runny nose and fever.
“Any time they have a fever, you have to run straight to the hospital,” Caran Rice said.
Bella Rice remained at the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite for two weeks, getting sicker and sicker, eventually testing positive for the flu and rhinoviruses, common viral infections.
“I don’t even remember; she had like 15 things at once,” Caran Rice said.
By the first of April, Bella Rice was placed on a ventilator for five weeks, “because her oxygen need was too high.”
The spirited girl returned home May 20 after 71 days, during much of which was in a medically-induced coma. She will continue low-dose chemotherapy for the next two years, Caran Rice said.
“She looks better, but she still has a horrible cough from the damage to her lungs … that worries me all the time,” Caran Rice said.
Bella Rice said during her hospital stay she suffered from nightmares, but also joked about the “googily medicine” she was given before MRI scans and spinal taps.
When she was released, Bella Rice said she made a toy do a happy dance. When she got home, Bella Rice said she hugged each of her stuffed animals.
Each day, Bella Rice has rehabilitation sessions to rebuild her muscles, which has helped her rely less on a wheelchair and walker.
While meeting with a Marietta Daily Journal reporter, Bella Rice demonstrated her pushup and squat exercises, as well as her favorite task, “braiding feet,” which is like a grapevine dance move sideways across the floor.
Last year, Bella Rice began attending Hearts Academy of Excellence, which Caran Rice described as a community home school co-op group.
“It ended up working out perfectly,” said Caran Rice, who added it will not take long for her “very smart” daughter to catch back up in school over the summer.
Bella Rice, whose favorite subject is science because of the experiments and looking at objects with a magnifying glass, said her plans for the summer is “eating ice cream all day … and brownies.”
Caran Rice, a single mother raising Bella Rice and Nolan Rice, 7, has worked at Energy Maintenance & Management Inc. in Hiram since 2004.
Even with medical insurance, Rice said hospital charges, medication costs for the 12 to 14 pills her daughter takes every day and gas to drive to Atlanta for rehab has mounted to $100,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
But Caran Rice is not facing the mounting pill of bills alone.
“People in the community that don’t even know us support us,” she said.
Two friends at the Calvary Baptist Church on Flint Hill Road north of Clay Road, where Bella Rice has attended since she was born, are organizing a fundraiser at the end of the month.
Stephanie Lambert, who has been a member of the church since she was 16 years old, remembers Bella Rice as a baby when Lambert was the church’s nursery director.
“I have known her since she was little,” Lambert said.
In March, Lambert had a dream about doing a fundraiser and called her friend, Kellie Brown, the next day to get started with the organizing.
“We just felt led to do this,” Brown said. “What (Caran Rice) is going through can happen to any of us.”
Although Brown said the last thing Caran Rice needs to worry about is financial issues, there is not an exact monetary goal for the fundraiser.
“The smile on her face and the support of the community is enough,” Brown said about Bella Rice’s special day.
On June 21, Calvary Baptist Church will host a “Battling for Bella” fun walk, a prayer balloon release, “karaoke for the kiddos” and a movie under the stars.
The organizers are still looking for donations of a helium tank and drinks. Contributions can be made by contacting BattlingforBella@gmail.com.
IF YOU GO ...
- WHAT: Battling For Bella Fundraiser
- WHEN: June 21
- 6:00 p.m. — Registration for fun walk
- 6:30 — Fun walk begins
- 7:30 — Balloon release for Bella
- 8:00 — Karaoke for the kids
- 9:00 — Starting of the movie “Frozen”
- COST: $25.00 per adult ($15.00 for kids under 12 & under) for an armband to participate in all events, a T-shirt and a bracelet
- Movie ticket only: $5 per person
- Balloon release: $1 per balloon
- T-shirts: $10 per shirt
- Bracelets: $1 each