Meet the four-year-old girl who has a rare condition that means she’s never eaten food – and is the same size as her one-year-old baby brother.
Bella Cole suffers from an genetic condition which makes her vomit, so she has to be fed through a tube directly into her intestines for 16 hours overnight.
The unusual condition also means she’s so small she can share a wardrobe with her one-year-old brother Teddy.
Bella is the average size of an 18-month-child and weighs just under 24lb, she wears 12-18 month sized clothes – the exact same as her baby brother.
Her parents Philippa Rabbitts, 31 and Matthew Cole, 35, often have to correct strangers who assume the two are twins – despite their three year age gap.
Bella’s determined family have raised money for an operation to help her – but are now fundraising to get her to America for specialist treatment.
Philippa, a full time mum, from Chelmsford, Essex, said: “Bella understands that she has a tube in her belly, she knows about it and she knows that other people don’t have them.
“She can’t use things the way other four-year-olds do. For example, for her toilet training I have to carry around a special seat to go on top of the toilet.
“If I didn’t she would fall down the toilet.
“All the normal things she should be doing at the age of four have to be adapted for her.
“Without fail, Bella vomits every morning and night.
“For us, because we’ve seen it so much we are used to it, but for other people who don’t see it so often it can be really concerning for them.
“It was her birthday last week and for a child to not be able to have birthday cake is heart-breaking.
“She can’t be on milk forever.”
Bella was born early weighing 4lb 11oz, at 37 weeks after she stopped growing in Philippa’s womb, so she was induced and gave birth to her by c-section.
At 6 weeks Bella was refusing any form of food, she stopped taking milk and started vomiting frequently.
She was given an NG tube aged 6 weeks and then a tube into her intestines aged 1 year – and this is still how she is fed today.
She still vomits multiple times a day – and doctors still have no idea why.
Therapists believe the daily vomiting had caused food aversion, and her family fear the longer she is tube fed, the harder it is going to be to wean her on to real food.
Philippa said: “I worry for the future as I feel like even with the specialist help Bella requires she will always have a different relationship with food”
Her family believe the first step to help Bella eat and stop vomiting is to have another tube placed in her stomach, replacing the one which feeds her intestines.
Faced with a 12-month NHS wait, they raised £10,000 to pay for it privately, and she will have this operation on the 29th August 2020.
“We can not wait another year watching Bella vomiting daily,” her mum said.
“We are all hoping that this is the first step to wean her off the tube and hopefully learn to eat independently.”
Then they hope to take her to Marcus Autism Center based in Atlanta, America, to help her eat normally, and wean her off the tube.
“We know it won’t be an overnight fix,” Phillipa said.
“The cost of Bella’s treatment in America alone is £35,000 – that’s without flights and accommodation.
“The treatment process can range from four to eight weeks, but we can not afford to send her to America for any more than four weeks.
“We hold fundraisers and once the lockdown restrictions are less strict we will be able to continue to hold fundraisers.
“During the lockdown, we have managed to raise £5,000.”
They hope to take her next February.
Phillipa added: “We are desperate for our daughter to eat for her sake – to enjoy all the lovely foods that children love to eat!
“She’s small but mighty with a huge personality and brings joy to anyone she meets.
“This kind of treatment is not available on the NHS or in the UK but will give Bella the best chance to learn to eat and enjoy food.
“Even though she vomits many times a day you would never know as she always has a big smile and carries on as normal.
“We would love for her to have the opportunity to enjoy food and have pleasure in eating and a positive experience with food and drink.
“We would be very grateful for any donations towards what would be life changing for Bella.”