This story starts with pain in Bella Forrest's knees and it ends with her dad, Bill, winning three authentic Red Sox World Series rings. Yet it is all the things in between, the kidney transplant, the strength drawn from Jonny Gomes, that will form a special forever bond between a Connecticut father and his daughter.
Bella Forrest is a vibrant 12-year-old athlete, a year older than her sister, Lulu. Bella plays field hockey, basketball and softball. She skis. She ice skates. Entering the seventh grade at Greenwich Country Day School, Bella also is a shameless Red Sox fan living on the Yankee side of our state.
Most kids who suffer from kidney failure show progressive signs of fatigue, jaundice and nausea. Bella was atypical. Knee pain sent the Forrests to a series of doctors that led Bella to the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and a diagnosis that showed problems with growth plates tied to a calcium deficiency. Blood work showed her kidneys were functioning at only 10-12 percent. Without the capability to develop calcium, she had developed bone disease.
In late March, Bella already had end-stage kidney disease.
"It came as a real shock to us," Bill said.
Given the reputation Boston Children's Hospital has for pediatric nephrology, the Forrests decided to put Bella in its care.
"Bella is a hardcore Red Sox fan," Bill said. "I grew up in Kennebunkport, Maine, as a Red Sox fan. I took her to her first game when she was 4. She's into baseball as much as any young boy you'll come across. She knows all the stats, the records. She's way into it."
The Forrests would make the 360-mile round trip from Greenwich to Boston every few weeks before the transplant. They ended up going to a handful of Red Sox games during that time. They'd stay in Boston, walk to Fenway Park.
"Look at this, papa, they're doing a raffle for the rings," Bella told her father one of those days.
"It's funny, Forrest said. " She actually has one of the imitation rings you can get."
This is the third year of the Red Sox Foundation World Series Ring Raffle. Fans from 50 states and 23 countries would purchase tickets. The money goes to education, to the Home Base Program and to the Jimmy Fund. In all, $620,236 would be raised this summer. With the Red Sox defeating the Cardinals in 2013, this was the first time rings from all three 21st century World Series titles were the grand prize.
"I can't remember exactly how many tickets I got," Bill said. "I made a $500 donation online. The truth is I did it as a good-cause motivation, not trying to win rings."
Good karma would catch up with him, but not before a difficult, life-changing ordeal for father and daughter.
Bill Forrest, 53, entered Brigham and Women's Hospital on July 23. Bella entered Children's the same day. They hospitals are connected by a pedestrian bridge. The transplant would be the following morning. There were phone line connections between the operating rooms. Father and daughter went into OR at 7:30 a.m. At 11:30, Bella was ready to receive and Bill was ready to give the gift of life to his daughter. He donated his left kidney.
"One of the surgeons from Bella's hospital brought it back to her," Bill said.
He would be in recovery by 2 p.m. Bella would be in recovery at 4 p.m. Bill was still in bed recovering the following Monday at 6 p.m. when out of nowhere the head of the Red Sox Foundation called and told him that in 45 minutes he would be announced as the grand prize ring raffle winner on NESN.
"She said given that you're in Greenwich, you probably don't get NESN," Bill said. "I told her I'm actually in a hospital bed in Boston, just gave my daughter my kidney and, yes, I'll be watching."
Bill's dad, Charles, was a die-hard Red Sox fan. Lived to 75, passing away one year before the Red Sox shattered the curse in 2004.
"He went to his first game in the early 1930s and took me to my first game in 1963 when I was 3," Bill said. "Bella and I talked about it, how she'd already in her lifetime seen the Red Sox win three times and my dad never saw one.
"To have the honor of having three official World Series rings and have it linked to this life experience has given my daughter a fresh start on life. It's a wonderful thing for our family."