CUMBERLAND, R.I. (WPRI) — The pandemic has kept many of us close to home, making our living spaces all the more important.
That’s why 16-year-old Isabella Choiniere, known as Bella to her family and friends, wanted a full bedroom makeover.
“I was going through like a really bad depression and my room was a mess,” she said. “I wanted a room that I could be myself in and do the things that I love to do.”
Bella, like many students across the country, has been participating in virtual learning throughout the pandemic, but she’s also been in isolation due to an underlying health condition.
She has Cystic Fibrosis, which is a progressive, genetic disease that can cause persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time.
Bella’s hope for the future
Bella’s condition isn’t stopping her from chasing her dreams.
She plans to run her own salon business one day. That’s why she didn’t just want a typical room upgrade. She wants a “glam spa makeover.”
“So since I was like in 6th grade, I was like 12, 13 years old, I’ve loved to do hair, nails, makeup, everything like that. It started off as just a girly thing, and then I really it became a passion of mine,” Bella said.
Bella seems to have it all figured out, telling 12 News that she’s already taking college courses and is hoping to get her associate’s degree within the next few years, receive her cosmetology license and eventually open her own salon.
How Bella’s dream room came to life
Her wish was granted by Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island, which creates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses, and it has continued to do so amid the pandemic.
According to the organization’s Regional Director, Michael Vieira, common wishes that are being granted right now include backyard playhouses, gaming systems, puppies and online shopping sprees.
“The overall theme is that it’s making their homes places that they can happily be in,” Vieira said. “In this time that we’re all spending a lot more time at home, and obviously the majority of our children being high-risk or spending that much more time in their homes, and it’s really sort of that category that we’ve since wishes move over into.”
“Just like everything in 2020 and 2021 where you look for that silver lining, the silver lining to the kinds of wishes that we’re making right now are that there things that are going to last forever with children,” he continued. “They’re things that really require and include this full community support behind our children.”
Bella’s wish was months in the making. Planning started prior to the pandemic, but she said wish coordinators didn’t want to put her under any added stress. They let her take as much time as she needed.
“I really appreciated that because I was going through a rough time when we started this process,” Bella said. “They were looking out for me not just as another sick kid, but as an actual person.”
Designing a total makeover of Bella’s bedroom was not done typically, in order to keep her, her family and volunteers safe. Instead of consultations in person, virtual calls and emails were exchanged over the course of last year.
Springfield-based designers Julie Jediny and Leslie Bercume from Inclined 2 Design created a 3-D model of Bella’s eventual dream room.
“They kind of just got me right from the start,” Bella said. “They understood what I wanted really fast, which was pretty awesome to see.”
Natick-based TLC Painting Inc. also contributed to the project.
Bella’s wish was completed earlier this month, when two volunteers with the organization were put to work to construct and organize the new space.
One of them was R.I. State Police Sgt. Scott Hartwell, who’s been a trooper since 2000, and a volunteer who’s been with Make-A-Wish since 2014.
He said he was inspired to become a volunteer after assisting with a police escort for a young Cumberland boy’s wish back in 2013.
“There’s so many wonderful volunteers with Make-A-Wish Massachusetts and Rhode Island, that frequently when the call for volunteers goes out, it doesn’t take very long for the calls to be snapped up quick,” Hartwell said.
Hartwell had carpentry experience prior to joining R.I. State Police, so he helped install and build some of the features in Bella’s new room.
“I’ve done a lot of wishes over the years, but this is the first one where I’ve actually been able to do some hands-on work,” Hartwell said.
Due to Bella’s health condition, she left the house for the day so she wouldn’t be put at risk being in contact with people outside of her household.
“My fellow volunteer Denise and I obviously wore masks while we were there doing the work, and there was a lot of hand-washing and such going on,” Hartwell said.
He said they even completed the project the same day they began construction, which allowed Bella to come home and enjoy it that night.
Additionally, Bella and the volunteers weren’t able to collaborate face-to-face, nor were they able to see her reaction in-person.
Bella’s parents texted Hartwell a picture of her reaction when she entered her new room for the first time.
“It made it all worthwhile,” he said.
Bella’s mother, Amanda Choiniere, described her daughter’s reaction to the reveal was “something to be seen.”
“To see the happiness come back to her, to see the light back in her eyes, it’s just what we wanted to see again,” Amanda said. “Our Bella was back.”
How Bella learned she had Cystic Fibrosis
Bella wasn’t diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis until much later in life, after she said doctors dismissed her symptoms as asthma for years.
“I knew it was something more than that,” she said.
After visiting with multiple pediatricians, ENT doctors and specialists, she was eventually tested for Cystic Fibrosis.
She then learned the genetic lung disease had been what was causing her sinus and breathing problems her whole life.
Only 12 years old at the time, Bella said she didn’t know what Cystic Fibrosis was and was scared when she first looked it up online.
“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m going to die,'” she recalled. “But I learned more about it, did some more research about it, and my doctor is amazing at talking about everything inside and out of Cystic Fibrosis.”
“We went to Boston and all over Rhode Island to find the best of the best doctors, who all led us back here to Hasbro, to the Cystic Fibrosis Clinic and Dr. Daigle, who is absolutely amazing and has given us the best of the best care for Bella,” Amanda added.
Bella said she hopes this story brings awareness to the disease.
“I just really want to help other people who had it worse than I do, and just learn more about it,” she said.
Navigating the pandemic as a teenager with a chronic illness
Amanda said being the mother of a teenager with a chronic condition like Cystic Fibrosis has been more challenging amid the pandemic.
“We want her to be able to be a typical teenager and be able to do the typical things going out with her friends, being able to have a job, all of that,” she said.
But she said the usual questions of asking who her child is hanging out with have evolved more into questions like, “Where have they been?” “Have they been hanging out with other people?” “Are they negative for COVID?”
She said she’s always keeping in mind Bella is more at risk than others.
But even with virtual school, doctors appointments and having to limit her friend group as the pandemic continues, Bella is taking it all in stride.
“I’ve just been staying home and trying to keep myself and my family safe,” she said.