Bellanne Butterfly Blessings Honors Former Patient's Legacy of Kindness
Bellanne (Bel) Coonrod never met a stranger. To Bel, everyone could use a little extra love, especially on the Hematology and Oncology floor of Cook Children’s.
Bel knew the hallways of Cook Children’s well. Born with a medley of complex medical diagnoses, she spent much of her life in and out of the hospital for ailments, procedures and tests.
In May 2016 after months of stridor (a wheezing sound caused by disrupted airflow), croup and pneumonia, Bel’s mother Vicki and father Jess Coonrod discovered a mass in Bel’s nostril. A biopsy confirmed a diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Diffused Large B-cell.
“When she was diagnosed with cancer it was heartbreaking,” Vicki said. “She asked us if she was going to die. So we had a long talk. After that conversation she said, ‘I’ve beat other stuff, I’ll beat cancer too.’”
As hard as she fought, Bel lost her battle with cancer at 6 years old. She died unexpectedly from pulmonary hemorrhaging on Feb. 17, 2018.
Throughout her young life, Bel seemed on the verge of victory against her disease. After learning of her diagnosis, she immediately began treatment. However, the cancer began to manifest itself in Bel’s mouth and lymph nodes, which left her with a whisper. Bel continued to fight alongside her family and friends at the medical center, and was deemed cancer-free in August 2016.
No sooner did Bel beat cancer, was she diagnosed with a common variable immune deficiency called B-cell Blood Disorder less than a year later in June 2017. It was another diagnosis that caused her cells to mutate and crowd together under her skin and on her organs. She began a clinical trial and was able to receive one of three scheduled doses. Her parents learned after her death that the trial was successful, and Bel was free of the disorder.
Bel’s life was full of obstacles, but she didn’t let any of this phase her. She was known as the “itty bitty girl with a great big spirit”, and had an even bigger will to give back to others.
Bel was born with club feet, bilateral radial dysplasia (shortening and directional deviation of the arms) and missing thumbs. She contracted bacterial meningitis as a 1 year old, which led to the diagnosis of pituitary dwarfism. Her little sister, Clar, was born shortly after and both were diagnosed with Ruthmond Thompson Syndrome, causing a compromised immune system that puts them at a higher risk for cancer.
“Bel was a medical child her whole life, which meant she was in and out of the hospital her whole life,” Vicki said. “We’ve faced lots of battles with her. She had been so sick leading up to the diagnosis, so it was just going into the mode of ‘do what we have to do to overcome this.’”
Despite the diagnosis, Bel held onto her contagious smile and her love for others. She could always be found welcoming new patients into the playrooms of the medical center. She continued to donate her birthday gifts to other patients, and held drives of her own to bring in donations for the oncology floor.
In May 2018, Bel’s parents and her younger sister founded Bellanne Butterfly Blessings as her legacy, which carries on her wish to “spread kindness by blessing others. Her memory is ingrained by her family’s will to continue to serve the community and the patients at Cook Children’s.
Their organization collects donations for specialty care packages for patients and families on the oncology floor. The Coonrod family’s own experiences and memories of the unit sparked inspiration for care package needs that patient families typically go without.
“It started out as our way of healing. As we’ve seen it develop, it’s become our way of serving,” Vicki said. “There were so many times when we were blessed by others on the oncology floor.”
Although they aren’t in the medical center as much as they were when Bel was here, Vicki, Clar and Jess continue to make their rounds, giving comfort items to patients and families along the way.
“To know that we are helping other people just like Bel did is a gift,” Vicki said. “It’s been a lot of work but it’s been so healing.The 24/7 fever, appointments and everything else at the medical center; we still have a purpose.”