Ryan and Meghan Bell got that camel they wanted so badly for Christmas last year. In fact, they got two.

Ryan and Meghan Bell with Abu the Camel
Meghan and Ryan with Abu the Camel at Overlook Farm last year.

The siblings, who were profiled in the 2011 Holiday edition of World Ark, actually raised far more than the $850 needed for the ungulate. With the help of friends, family, their community and other Heifer donors, the siblings from Wallingford, Conn., raised $8,615.

Last year’s total was more than enough for their ultimate goal of a Gift Ark, but it also bought them the Cheeses of the World Gift Basket, the Knitters Basket, a school of fishtrees, a water buffalosheep, a heiferchicksducks and geese in addition to the two camels.

“The fundraising truly took on a life of its own,” said Laura Bell, Ryan and Meghan’s mom. “We had donations in the kids’ names from everywhere coming in.”

The family set up a Team Heifer account to accept online donations, and became addicted to checking in on the amount in the account, Laura said. Each time the amount increased, 8-year-old Meghan did her own victory dance, while Ryan, age 11, just kept upping their goal, not afraid of dreaming too big.

Their success earned them a bit of local celebrity, too. People began recognizing them after an article appeared in their local paper. Ryan’s fifth-grade class used another article on the Bells’ fundraising efforts for an exercise on reading comprehension.

“I have to admit, it was kind of neat to be the topic of one of our assignments,” Ryan said. Ryan has also started correspondence with an Armenian child who is part of a Heifer proejct.

Having Ryan get attention for something other than his Treacher Collins syndrome, a cranio-facial disorder that affects the bone and soft tissue formation of the face, was good for the entire family, Laura said. Especially since 2012 turned into a tougher year than expected on the medical front.

In February Ryan went in for his 34th surgery to lengthen his jaw in order to open his airway. His small jaw was set so far back that it required him to breathe through a tracheotomy. For the next five weeks, Laura had to turn pins in Ryan’s jaw in order to lengthen the bone.

“He was extremely brave, but it was a tough experience for all of us,” Laura said.

Ryan and Meghan Bell
Meghan and Ryan Bell hope to raise a $25,000 Gift of Transformation for Heifer. The siblings were inspired by Ryan's orn transformation.

Ryan missed those five weeks of school, keeping up with his work with the help of a tutor. During that time he also had to re-learn how to eat and talk because his jaw and tongue were now in very different places than before the surgery.

“It felt like I missed half of my school year and all of the fun parts,” Ryan said. “Now that it is over everyone makes a fuss about how good I look, but it is still just the same me.”

While Ryan still requires a tube for breathing, the family is hopeful that with just a few more surgeries he will soon be able to breathe without its assistance. But that’s probably a few more months away, and Ryan is enjoying middle school in the meantime.

With the holiday season coming up, Ryan is back at his Heifer fundraising. Nothing could stop him after last year’s success, Laura said.

“We sat down and talked about the new Heifer goal. How do you even begin to think that you can top last year? How lofty of a goal should we make?” Laura said. “We were looking at another surgery in August and then him getting used to a new school in the fall. It could be a lot to take on. And then IT happened.”

“It” was that Ryan found out Heifer offers a Gift of Transformation, which comes with a $25,000 price tag. Laura said he made up his mind immediately and is willing to stick with this goal even if it takes years to achieve.

“I was excited when I saw the Gift of Transformation in the gift catalog because it reminds me of the transformation that I went through this year. I wasn’t excited to do this surgery and I wouldn’t have chosen it for myself. The doctor took my underdeveloped jaw and transformed my airway. It was a transformation for me,” Ryan said.

That transformation serves as his inspiration, he said.

“I want to give my own Gift of Transformation to the world. I want to send herds of heifers, llamas, and goats, flocks of sheep and chickens, a pen of pigs, a school of fish and a gaggle of geese to an underdeveloped area of the world and let a transformation take place as the gift is received, utilized and passed along. A Gift of Transformation can affect the lives of people in an entire village or community.”

“I don’t want to rely on a trach to breathe. I don’t want extra medical equipment and it would be great to not need a nurse or parent around at all times. I want my independence, just like these people want to be independent and take care of their own needs. They just need a different kind of assistance for their transformation; they need us.”

To help Ryan meet his goal, go to his Team Heifer page.