Community comes together to ‘Give Bella Strength’
By SHELLY WILKISON
It wasn’t that long ago that 10-year-old Bella Herman was dancing on tip toes and moving easily to the cadence of hip hop tunes.
But weeks away from the beginning of another school year, she is now in a wheelchair and undergoing rigorous physical therapy to restore strength to her legs and feet — strength she lost last spring as a likely result of a flu vaccination.
Bella, daughter of former Liberty Hill High School football coach Brian Herman and his wife, Nicole, received a Flu Mist vaccine last spring that doctors say led to the illness, Mrs. Herman said.
Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system and damages nerve cells. According to the Centers for Disease Control, GBS causes muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis.
CDC confirms that GBS is more common among older adults, especially those older than age 50. Typically in those patients it is contracted days after they have been sick with diarrhea or a respiratory illness, the flu or other infections.
Rarely, someone develops GBS symptoms in the days following a flu vaccine.
“There is a tiny warning that pharmacists receive, which isn’t often shared with the customer, that one or two of 100,000 people get it (after receiving Flu Mist),” Mrs. Herman said. “And it’s (GBS) especially rare in children.
“They (doctors) told us it happens after a virus, then a few weeks later, it hits,” she explained, adding that it somehow gained strength in her body at a time when Bella must have had some type of a virus.
“We don’t know what it is about her that made her a target,” Mrs. Herman said, adding that her other two children also received the Flu Mist at the same time. Mrs. Herman received a flu vaccine injection. No one else developed any symptoms.
Mrs. Herman, who remembers the onset of the illness as if it were yesterday, said she and her husband watched helplessly over the course of five days as their daughter went from strong and energetic to being unable to stand or walk.
“Any second, I would have glady taken her place. I hate to see her suffer,” she said. “She was scared, and I was scared, but I couldn’t show my fear. It’s still hard now watching her go through all of this.”
On April 1, she said Bella first noticed a tingling in her feet. The following day, her dance teacher sent her home early from ballet because she couldn’t point her toes and complained that she had no feeling in them. The Hermans thought the symptoms might have been the result of day-long STAAR testing at school where Bella was seated most of the day. They thought the symptoms would pass.
“By day four, she was sort of dragging her foot when she walked, and the next day she was really walking strangely,” Mrs. Herman said. Somewhat reluctantly, she let Bella go to a sleepover that night. It was there that she fell a couple of times when her legs simply collapsed.
The Hermans took her to the emergency room where Bella went through a number of tests. She then received blood transfusions where the antibodies from healthy blood donors were infused into her body. She showed some signs of improvement, but the symptoms quickly reoccurred, calling for a more intense treatment.
Over the course of 16 days, Bella’s blood was “washed” and donor plasma replaced her plasma. Mrs. Herman said the disease was in Bella’s plasma.
As time passed, Bella lost her ability to stand and walk without assistance. Two months later, she is receiving rigorous physical therapy almost daily and is slowly regaining her strength.
The Hermans moved to Kyle from Eustace in recent months in anticipation of Coach Herman’s new position as Head Football Coach at Lockhart High School. Coach Herman coached in Eustace two years after leaving Liberty Hill in 2010. Bella attended kindergarten through second grade in Liberty Hill.
Mrs. Herman works in downtown Austin. This summer, Bella has been receiving physical therapy four days a week at Dell Children’s Hospital, but the treatments have become too costly — averaging about $1,000 for a two-hour session.
To make sure Bella makes progress, the Hermans also have a therapist coming to their home to work with Bella.
“They (doctors) say she should come back to 100 percent,” Mrs. Herman said. “Without some kind of relapse, and with more intense therapy, it could be a few months away.”
To assist the Herman family with the costs of Bella’s treatment, friends in Liberty Hill are hosting a fundraising event from 6-9 p.m. on August 3 at Fellowship Church. The benefit features a fajita dinner, silent auction, games and fun for all ages.
T-shirts and $5 wristbands are also being sold with all proceeds going to support Bella’s continued therapy.
In the meantime, Bella says she is growing anxious about starting a new school in Kyle where she will be in the fifth grade. She said math and art are her favorite subjects.
“I’m nervous about school,” she said. “I might still be walking with a walker and they (other students) might make fun of me.”
Bella said she feels herself getting stronger and is looking forward to dancing again. She misses that more than anything.
“I get tired a lot (after therapy) and I have to take a lot of medicine,” she said.
She said she can now walk about 50 feet at one time with therapists or family members positioned nearby for support.
Friends of the Hermans are asking the Liberty Hill community to help by making a donation.
T-shirts can be purchased online at www.bonfirefunds.com/giving-bella-strength-2. Wristbands are on sale at Simply Home Decor & More in Liberty Hill. Tickets for the fundraising event may be purchased at the Fellowship Church or online at http://givingbellastrength.eventbrite.com.
To keep up with Bella’s progress, follow Mrs. Herman’s blog online at —- or find “Giving Bella Strength” on Facebook.