COGGON, Iowa — The sound fills any room that Bella Denny is in.
This little girl, almost 3, is battling back from an unthinkable car crash one year ago.
The sound of the ventilator tracks her breathing and to let anyone else know that Bella is doing okay.
“Over the last six months since we’ve been home, she’s gotten a lot more stable,” said her father, Chris, as they sat in their Coggon home last week. “She’s been going off oxygen the last three weeks and we’re real proud of that. She’s getting stronger every day.”
Strength is what this family needs. Always.
Ever since last May 18.
That evening, Bella wasn’t feeling well and her mother, Rachel, did what any doting mom would do. She drove her daughter to a hospital to get looked at.
On the drive home, a life ended and a family changed forever. Investigators said Brandon Schaul, now 26, was legally intoxicated when he slammed his vehicle into Rachel Denny’s minivan just north of Central City. Rachel died at the scene and Bella, only 22 months old at the time, was thought to be paralyzed from the neck down.
The next few weeks were a blur for Chris Denny, now a father on his own raising their other child, Isiah, then 3, and a toddler now requiring constant care. People offered their prayers. Friends held them close. Families organized benefits.
Yet the expenses remain and the time needed to keep this little girl fighting is constant.
“She is moving her right arm and it triggers some leg movements and vice versa,” said Chris Denny as Bella, indeed, moved her right arm a few inches. “She can move her legs, which can trigger her arm movement.”
This week, it’s another round of rehabilitation for Chris and Bella at Shriners Hospitals for Children in Chicago. Chris said this hospital saw Bella as a human and has brought out so much of the progress in recent months.
Chris said that Bella is up to saying about 60 or 70 words and that her brain is “like a sponge”. A favorite word is “brother” for her four-year-old brother, Isiah. Bella’s father demonstrated a specialized chair they’re trying out for when she starts preschool for three-year-olds, with levers that will allow Bella to get low to the floor for story time or other play and learning activities.
Will Bella walk again? It’s the question that one thinks about first when learning about her.
“(The physician) said that it is nearly impossible to tell if these kids will walk or not because they’re so young to begin with and she was injured at 22 months and had just started walking at 16 months,” said Chris. “Her body is very weak to begin with. It’s a drawn-out process. It could take up to six or seven more years to see everything come back eventually.”
For this current stretch at Shriners, Chris said the therapists will work on stimulating her fingers and toes, along with a bicycle for her arms and legs that she can attempt to pedal and keep building up strength.
“They’re hoping, once the muscles wake up, the less (stimulation) she will need.”
Chris called Bella “my inspiration in life”.
“Our normal struggles are nothing compared to what she’s going through,” said Chris. “She’s tough. A tough little girl with her mommy’s looks and her mommy’s fight.”
The pursuit of a normal world for Bella makes up Chris’ days now. He is a full-time nursing student at Kirkwood Community College, dividing up his exhausting days between being a father and pushing ahead in his education.
For anyone in Eastern Iowa who is out and about, they may come across the little girl who smiles and keeps adding words. She attends Easter egg hunts, goes to parks. She’s like any other girl about to turn three.
“I try to look at her as normal as possible,” said Chris. “I know the initial reaction is to feel sorry for her but when you live with her 24/7.” His voice trailed off. “A very happy 2-year-old girl. She just does stuff in a different way.”
When asked what the family needs, Chris didn’t hesitate.
“A handicapped, wheelchair van is our main necessity.”
Chris said a quality, used van that would be equipped for Bella costs about $45,000. On Sunday, June 29th, a benefit will be held in Center Point at Wakema Park to try and reach this goal of a van to take her from Coggon to her physical therapy appointments in Cedar Rapids.
For more information on how to help, the Walker State Bank in Walker has set up a fund: 116 Greene Street, Walker, IA 52352.
Chris also confirmed that a GoFundMe website is accepting online donations for Bella’s van. www.gofundme.com/Hope-For-Bella
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