Bella smiling next to a horse

Graphic: Bella smiling next to a horse

Road to recovery - Bella's story

Date published

08 Mar 2024

Bella Howe’s life changed on a wild winter’s day in July 2022. She was a spectator at a dirt bike race in the Wheatbelt town of Brookton when a rider

The dirt bike hit an embankment and flipped, hitting Bella in the head, instantly knocking her out. The medic on scene rushed to give CPR.

Bella was taken to Pingelly Hospital via ambulance and the RFDS was called, with Bella classified as a Priority 1 patient. Unfortunately, low cloud cover made visibility dangerous and the option to retrieve her via helicopter was halted. A decision was made to transport Bella to Perth via road ambulance, using RFDS’s dedicated road vehicle. Driver Pete Ricketts recalls taking the RFDS crew to retrieve Bella.

“The weather was the worst I have seen it - hailstones, fog, driving rain, all the way to Pingelly with lights and sirens on,” he said.

It took three hours for critically injured Bella, who was by now intubated and in a medically induced coma, to be stable enough for the drive to Royal Perth Hospital (RPH). Once admitted to ICU, the team at RPH worked to improve Bella’s breathing, as well as drain bleeding on the brain. Scans showed Bella had a fracture at the base of her skull as well as trauma to the brain.

The doctors told my mum there was only a one in five chance of me waking up, and that if I did, I could be in a vegetative state, and not be able to talk or walk again.

But the odds were in Bella’s favour, and after 10 days she was brought out of the coma. With the support of therapists, Bella was quickly walking and talking again. After five weeks at RPH, Bella was moved to Fiona Stanley Hospital for another five weeks of rehabilitation. Bella laughingly credits her stubborn nature for her impressive recovery.

Fourteen months after being told Bella may not survive, Bella’s family celebrated her 21st birthday in Bali. Now back to driving, running and horseriding, she still experiences occasional dizziness and vertigo, but is busy studying to become a personal trainer. Fitness became a passion as she worked hard to regain strength on her left side.

“It would be really rewarding for me to work with people who’ve been through a similar situation to me and help them get stronger and better,” Bella said.

RFDS driver Pete was thrilled to find out Bella has recovered so well.

“She’s a young lady who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and now she has her whole life ahead of her,” he said.

“To think of how she was when we collected her to where she is now, it’s the icing on the cake for my long RFDS career.”

Bella laying unconscious on a hospital bed.