CARMEL, Ind. (WISH) — A Carmel High School student is making sure critically ill children have toys this season, despite her own serious health issues.
Bella Simons is collecting toys starting Tuesday and running through December 12 at Carmel High School, the Ronald McDonald House at Riley Hospital for Children and the Ronald McDonald House located at 435 Limestone Street.
“It’s so important to all the kids who have countless doctors appointments and who have had countless pokes and prods, it’s really important, and I know this because I have been through this myself,” Bella Simons said.
Bella’s own health issues started right after she started her sophomore year of high school.
“On the first day of school, Bella came home with a headache, like a migraine and she never had a migraine before and then on the second day, she came home vomiting,” said her mom, Tasha Simons.
She also started to have anxiety. Doctors gave her medicine for that, which also stopped the headaches, but not the vomiting.
“She’d vomit like four times a day toward the end, it was horrible,” said Tasha.
An MRI revealed what doctors could not see: a brain tumor and it was bad.
“She was at risk of dying,” said Tasha.
“I was freaking out as you’d expect for a teenage girl finding out such news it was nerve wracking of course,” said Bella.
Doctors performed emergency brain surgery, removing one tumor, but finding another.
“That one she said she would not operate on, it’s not that it was inoperable, it’s just that if they operated it the damage would be so severe that she did not want to do it, she did not recommend it, so pretty much the only option we had for Bella was to get radiation treatment,” said Tasha.
Six weeks of proton beam radiation therapy in Chicago.
“It was really hard to be away from my dad and my brother and all of my friends, but you know I got through it somehow,” said Bella.
Maybe it was her smile or her ability to keep dancing, but somehow, Bella got through it. Even keeping up with her AP and honors classes, and beginning her mission of helping others.
She was nominated to be a Riley Champion this year, sharing her story with others to help raise money for the hospital. She’s also volunteered with Project Sunshine, putting together cards and crafts for sick kids.
“This is what motivates her, like whenever she has a set back she does the opposite of what makes sense. instead of focusing on her suffering, she focuses on helping others,” said Tasha.
It’s what she’s doing again after her latest set back just a few weeks ago.
“We had a campus visit at Taylor I remember driving on the way to Taylor University and I was looking at her thinking something doesn’t look right,” said Tasha.
A thought confirmed the next day when Bella was asked to write her name and address.
“I don’t know what she wrote, but it was not her name and address and I said, ‘Honey, what are you doing?’ and she said, Mom, can you do it for me?’ and I remember thinking, ‘You can’t write you name and address?'”
Bella was having a stroke. One that will require yet another brain surgery.
“It’s so extremely rare for children to have strokes that it wasn’t even on my radar so when they said she had a stroke, I was shocked. I was really shocked. I didn’t even know how to process that like, she’s had two brain tumors and a stroke. They keep telling me these things are rare, but they keep happening to Bella,” said Tasha.
Something Bella is not dwelling on.
“I could sit around and mope because I’ve had brain surgery and I’ve been through more than any 17-year-old girl should have to, but I choose to be grateful. I choose it,” she said.
An attitude that is helping her get through it all.
“I could have died two years ago. and I could have left my family, but I’m okay and I’m here and I just have to be grateful for every moment, every book I get to read, every sunshine morning I get to see and you just have to be grateful for everything,” said Bella, whose faith also plays in a big role.
In addition to the toy drive, Bella is also raising money for Riley Hospital for Children through the Carmel Dance Marathon.
She’s also hosting a spa night fundraiser: