Carmel High School junior Bella Simons sits next to her mother around a table covered with photos that tell a dramatic story. As they recount the tale, Bella frequently refers to her notes. Memory problems are a lingering effect from the brain tumor that nearly took her life. “It was kind of a crazy journey,” says Bella.
Bella is an honors student who has always loved helping others, from making craft kits for hospitalized kids through Project Sunshine, to volunteering at an orphanage in El Salvador, to visiting human trafficking victims in Cambodia.
During the fall of 2015, Bella’s active life was slowed down suddenly by migraines and frequent vomiting. “I had to start carrying plastic bags in my backpack,” recalls Bella. After a severe headache drove Bella to an emergency room, where she was diagnosed with migraines. An on-call physician who later followed up diagnosed her with anxiety as well. About a month went by before Bella made her way to a neurologist, who performed an MRI. “By the time she got the MRI, she almost died,” says Bella’s mother, Tasha Simons. “It was severe. She couldn’t even stand.”
The MRI revealed that the real cause of Bella’s symptoms was a benign brain tumor called craniopharyngioma on her pituitary gland, along with severe hydrocephalus (excessive brain fluid). She was immediately referred to Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, where she was scheduled for emergency brain surgery the very next day.
“When you’re told you’re going to go into brain surgery tomorrow, you freak out a little bit,” says Bella. That’s why she was so grateful for Riley’s Child Life Specialists, who explained the steps involved in her surgery and brought in pet therapy dogs and coloring supplies. “It’s just so important,” says Bella. “They care about you not just physically, but also mentally.”
On October 30, 2015, Riley Pediatric Neurosurgeon Jodi Smith, M.D., performed Bella’s brain surgery and discovered there were actually two tumors. She was able to completely drain the first one, but the remaining tumor tissue could not be safely removed because of the location. Bella began daily proton beam radiation for six weeks. The tumor took longer than expected to shrink. The family held onto their faith as their church community prayed for Bella. By September 2016, Bella received the news that she and her loved ones prayed they’d hear: the tumor had collapsed. It is considered “dead.”
“I’m so grateful to Riley, and to Dr. Jodi Smith for saving my life,” says Bella. “There’s no way I could thank her enough.” Bella will show her gratitude to Riley by continuing to serve the community as a Riley Champion. “I feel so excited that after what I’ve been through, I can encourage other kids to have hope and to not give up,” says Bella. “That’s what I’ve learned from all of this: the power of hope.”
When Tasha tries to describe how Bella’s journey has inspired her, tears begin to flow and Bella grabs her mother’s hand. “Bella, you’re strong, courageous,” Tasha tells her. “You’re my hero.”
Bella responds: “You’re mine. I love you.”