When Isabella Rose was born 15 years ago, her mother Roselyne immediately knew there was something wrong.
Baby Bella had trouble feeding and sleeping. When breastfed, the milk would leak out of the baby’s nose, and Bella would lie at night crying, unable to sleep.
The frantic parents, Roselyne and Tim Rose, went from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist, but no one could figure out what was wrong.
As Bella grew, so did the problems. Her speech sounded like she was whistling – only her parents could understand her – and she had constant ear and sinus infections.
Doctors were of little help. Some thought the little girl was deaf; others suspected cognitive problems. Nobody was sure.
The parents, who lived in the United States, were at their wit’s end and on the verge of giving up when a friend suggested they try the Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago.
A team of specialists at the Shriners examined the five-yearold Bella and had a diagnosis within minutes. The child had a submucous cleft palate, which was not easily identified because it was covered by a thin membrane.
Bella received surgery and two years of speech therapy to learn how to speak.
Now 15 years old and living in Florida where she is in Grade 10, Bella is an international patient ambassador for Shriners, who was in Brockville this week to share her story with local Shriners and area schoolchildren.
Ten years after her surgery, Bella is a spellbinding motivational speaker with a poise and maturity far beyond her years.
In a high-energy, inspirational speech, Bella told Brockville Shriners that they are far too modest about their accomplishments.
She and thousands of other children treated by the Shriner hospitals have had their lives changed because of the generosity of the club members, Bella said.
“You don’t give yourself enough credit. You change lives,” she told the Brockville Shriners.
Every morning when the Shriners get up, they should look in the mirror, and tell themselves: “I changed a life today,” Bella told the Shriners, who rewarded her with a standing ovation after her 30-minute speech, delivered without notes.
As part of her tour of the Brockville area, Bella went to Front of Yonge Elementary and Thousand Islands Elementary to talk to kids about bullying.
As she was learning to speak after her operation, Bella said the other kids laughed at her and called her names.
The bullying was devastating to her confidence and self-image, Bella said. Even though the teasing was directed at her speech, Bella said she thought everything was wrong with her. She began to doubt her intelligence, her looks, and even how she dressed, she said.
“I thought that everything was wrong with me because if society says that one thing is wrong then everything else must be wrong too.”
Bella tells the students to accept the differences of others and to realize that people are all the same.
While visiting Shriners hospitals, Bella said she meets kids with missing limbs, eyes, noses and other deformities.
“No one is ugly – no one,” she said.
Bella says she tells students that if they have something mean to say, that they should tell it to themselves first to see what it sounds like.