A young Swift Current girl, Sask., had been waiting three years for a life-saving intestinal transplant — and just over a week ago, she got it.
Nine-year-old Bella Thomson was born with three rare diseases: dwarfism, severe combined immunodeficiency and Hirschsprung's disease, which affects the gut.
“I'm fine,” Bella told CBC News from her hospital room at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children — aka SickKids.
Her positivity became an overnight sensation on TikTok in 2021 after her mother posted a video of her drawing a fox for a short story. She now has millions of followers on TikTok, including pop singer Halsey, who sent Bella a gift of art supplies.
Hirschsprung disease affects the colon — or colon. According to the Mayo Clinic, it's because babies lack nerve cells in the muscles that help move food through the intestines. This can lead to blockages in the intestines, which can lead to swelling of the large intestine.
Children with this disease are susceptible to enterocolitis, an intestinal infection that can be life-threatening. The only treatment is surgery to bypass or remove the affected part of the colon.
Bella struggled with pain and bloating for years and used IV fluids and total parenteral nutrition (TPN), said Kyla Thomson, Bella's mother.
TPN is a diet that bypasses the gastrointestinal tract. Liquid nutrients such as vitamins, carbohydrates and protein are supplied to the person through a vein.
In 2020, Bella's doctors put her on the transplant list because she did not have vascular access, which meant the girl would have trouble putting IVs in, Kyla said.
Bella will have to wait until another child's intestines are available for surgery, Kyla said, adding that her family is grateful to the organ donor's family for agreeing to the donation.
“She can survive now because she has new gut,” Kyla said. “This journey will be brand new for us in every way.”
While she previously worked as a teacher, Kyla said she quit her job to work full-time as a “medical mom.”
Bella will still need immune boosters due to her immune deficiency, Kyla said, but the surgery will relieve her daughter's pain and the need to use IVs, among other things.
“The freedom for them is huge – and for all of us together,” she said. “We had to spend our lives not knowing when the next hospitalization would be and how long it would be.”
First day of solid food
Bella will need to stay in the Toronto hospital for three months to a year, she said. Bella's mother, father and younger brother are all with her in Toronto.
But her doctors are incredibly pleased with the surgery and the girl's recovery, Kyla said.
Doctors told Kyla that an examination of Bella's intestines after the surgery showed no signs of rejection. Bella has started walking again and the day she spoke to CBC News was her first day of eating solid food.
That day she had oatmeal with cinnamon and apple slices for breakfast. Lunch is half a roast beef sandwich with lettuce and low-fat mayonnaise, Bella said.
For dinner, rice with soy sauce is on the menu, she added.
Bella, who has spent hundreds of days in the hospital throughout her life, has risen to internet fame over the course of her health journey.
Bella told CBC News she has a message for other children awaiting transplants.
“Be very careful. Have fun. And stay brave,” she said.