The Jennifer Bell Saga

Last year, 17-year-old Jennifer Bell was a typical teen-ager. She loved her sisters, her friends and the Spice Girls. But one morning last January, in her suburban Maryland home, it all nearly ended.

As 48 Hours Correspondent Harold Dow reports, the entire Bell family will never forget the day she suffered a brain hemorrhage.


"That was probably the worst day of my life," Jennifer's sister Meredith recalled. "I heard Jennifer complaining that she had a really bad headache." She kept crying and moaning about the pain shooting down her neck.

Jennifer's mother and father, Sallie and Mark Bell, did not know what was wrong until the paramedics rushed her to the hospital. Their daughter had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage and had fallen into a coma.

"I shook her, and she wasn't responding," said Sallie Bell, adding that she sas told "It could be bleeding on the brain, and I just lost it."

Mark Bell said the doctor gave them little hope, maintaining that if Jennifer lived, she would be a vegetable for the rest of her life.

"I felt like someone had literally put their hand in my chest and was squeezing my heart," said Sallie Bell.

After 40 days, Jennifer came out of the coma.

"I thought I was dreaming for the longest time," Jennifer recalled. "I slept a lot because I thought I would just wake up from it, and everything would be OK. And I'd be walking again, and I'd go back to driving my car."

And after five months in the hospital, Jennifer started over. But when she first came out of the hospital, she couldn't do anything for herself, her mother said. Jennifer had suffered a loss in her short-term memory.

"Maybe not remembering is my body's way of protecting my mind from the bad times," Jennifer explained. "To face the fact that I can't walk is really disappointing to me. And that I couldn't dance at my last homecoming dance of being a senior was kind of sad for me."

But rather than dwell on the past, Jennifer was determined to make the most of her future.

"It's made me believe that I can do anything if I put my mind to it, and I've definitely gotten stronger through it," she said.

Barely three months out of the hospital and still shaky, Jennifer returned to school to finish the senior year that no one thought she'd live to see.

"I never expected such a positive attitude from people - and also inspiration to keep going and to finish what I started," Jennifer declared. "I can't give up. I've done so much in my life that I can't give up."

But for this popular girl who lived for volleyball, excelled in school and dreamed of becoming a fashion designer one day, the triumph was sometimes bittersweet.

"Everybody has to overcome some challenge in her life, and Jennifer already went through that challenge," says her sister Leigh.

And Jennifer's struggle was not over. She subsequetly underwent surgery to remove a dangerous tangle of abnormal veins and arteries lodged in her brain called arteriovenous malformation (AVM). She was born with the condition, and she could hemorrhage again at any time.

"The AVM itself is this tangle of black which are abnormal blood vessels," said Dr. Vance Watson of Georgetown University Hospital, who treated Jennifer.

"We put a small tube in the hip region....It passes up through the brain, on a torturous course to the AVM," he continued. "We inject what we call glue, and it touches the blood vessels and hardens...and blocks them off."

The surgery took four hours but was a success. Although she faces more surgery, Jennifer's doctors believe she will be able to do almost anything she wants.

But today nearly 11 months after being near death, success for Jennifer comes in small steps. All she wants is to walk across a room at a fashion show in front of her family and friends.

"Everything seems to be falling back into place," she said. "It's going so well. I feel good."

Too Much Too Soon: Main Page