JACKSONVILLE, ONSLOW COUNTY - Bella Tomlinson is celebrating a big milestone. Just more than a year ago, the Jacksonville toddler had a double-lung transplant because of a gene mutation. But the 22-month-old just had her one-year checkup, and doctors said she's stronger than ever.
It all started in October 2011, when Bella's mom, Maya Tomlinson, noticed that her daughter was sounding congested. Bella was about 2 months old at the time.
Tomlinson then took Bella to a doctor's office.
"When they got her back to weigh her and check her pulse, nothing was registering," Tomlinson said. "Then all of a sudden, she turned grey and freaked everyone out, so they went ahead and called EMS."
Bella was rushed to Vidant Medical Center in Greenville with respiratory distress.
"She was in the E.R. from about 6 o'clock that night to midnight, and they were just running a whole bunch of tests and didn't know what was wrong with her," Tomlinson said.
Bella spent five months at Vidant Medical Center, where she was on a ventilator and being fed through a tube, Tomlinson said. Doctors diagnosed Bella with a heart defect and a lung disease. They treated her, but saw no improvement.
"She was getting worse and worse in spite of good care," said Dr. George Mallory, director of the lung transplant program at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston.
In April 2012, Bella was transferred to Texas Children's Hospital under Dr. Mallory's care. She was soon diagnosed with a Filamin A mutation, a defect of the gene involved in the development of organs.
"We really knew she was not going to survive without a lung transplant," Dr. Mallory said.
But there were risks, infection being one of the biggest. Fortunately, Bella was the second infant on the lung transplant list. In May 2012, when she was 9 months old, she got her new lungs.
Bella's family visited Texas Children's Hospital on June 12 and 13 for her one-year checkup. They said their little girl is thriving.
"She hasn't really been sick. She's had a common cold [but] you just treat it like anything else. She's off the ventilator. She's regular, just turning into her terrible twos," Tomblinson said.
Dr. Mallory said a big part of Bella's recovery has been the love she's gotten from her family.
"Bella is a great example of how amazingly good the results can be, the quality of life. This girl was so very sick and her devoted mother was at her bedside 23 hours a day," Dr. Mallory said.
"Faith is a big factor," Tomlinson added. "Miracles do happen and we have a living proof."
Bella will turn two years old on August 26.
According to Dr. Mallory, only two pediatric lung transplant centers in the country have done any infant transplants in the last seven years.