Tony Bell’s Worst Hospital Stay Came From Bull Riding, Not Spina Bifida

Editor’s Note: Tony Bell of Harveyville, Kansas, was born with partial spina bifida and imperforate anus. Doctors removed his tailbone right after birth and gave him an ostomy and later a colostomy. Doctors at Bell’s birth predicted he never would walk, he only had about 2% bowel control, and doctors didn’t believe he would survive past his 1 year-old birthday. According to Bell today, “All the odds were against me, and doctors told my parents that they’d better not get attached to me, because I wouldn’t be around for very long.” So, from birth, Bell had to learn to fight to survive. Part 2 of a 5-part series.

Tony Bell was thrown off a large, black bull and stomped on, resulting in broken ribs. Injuries do not stop him!

Tony Bell was thrown off a large, black bull and stomped on, resulting in broken ribs. Injuries do not stop him!

My worse bullriding accident happened once when I was in a rodeo in Colorado Springs. I’d drawn a black bull named XY 103 that had horns that turned down instead of up. We called those bulls banana horns, since their horns looked like bananas were stuck in their heads. I’d made a good ride on this bull that scored about 82 points on a 100-point system. I’d made a good dismount from the bull.

But very quickly after I hit the ground, I realized I hadn’t gotten away from the bull as quickly as I needed to, and the bull hit me from the back, pinned me to the ground and then stomped me. Immediately I thought I had broken ribs. The paramedics wanted to take me to the hospital right then, however, I refused to go. After the rodeo ended, I had my rodeo partner I traveled with take me to the hospital. Once I arrived there, I was put in a room.

Remember that my tailbone had been removed when I was a baby. The first thing the doctors in the emergency room did was to x-ray me. When the nurse came in and looked at my x-rays, she couldn’t see a tailbone, and she hollered, “Oh, no, this can’t be right.”

She instantly left the room and went to get the doctor who then came into the room and whispered back and forth to the nurse. Finally he said, “You better sit down. We’ve got some really bad news for you.” I said, “I am sitting down.”

I thought the worse – perhaps a rib had been broken and pushed through my lung or some other horrible injury had occurred. The doctor looked at me in total bewilderment and explained, “I don’t know where your tailbone went.”

And, I started laughing hard. Since laughing made my ribs and chest hurt, I figured I had some broken ribs. The doctor got red in the face. I’m sure he thought I’d either lost my mind or didn’t understand that losing my tailbone could be a very serious problem. However, he also was confused, because he didn’t know where my tailbone had gone. Finally once I could stop laughing, I explained to the doctor that I’d had an ostomy and spina bifida at birth and had had my tailbone removed right after birth.

Then the doctor asked, “Why in the world are you running bulls in a rodeo?” I told him, “Bullriding is my passion. Once you have that passion for bullriding, getting rid of that passion is really tough.”  

Professional bullriders accept the fact they will get hurt and be in a lot of pain.

Professional bullriders accept the fact they will get hurt and be in a lot of pain.

Here’s what happened for me to ride bulls. After my surgery when I was 8-years old, my parents asked me what I wanted to grow up to be. Immediately I told them, “I want to be a bullrider.” My mom said, “No, I don’t think so. Tony, you went through 18 surgeries before your first birthday just to survive. I know you’re not going to become a bullrider.”

So, after I explained to the doctor and the nurse why I was a bullrider, and where my tailbone had gone, he looked at my x-rays again and saw that I had three broken ribs. To me, that wasn’t a big deal, because when you make the decision to be a bullrider, you also have decided to get hurt and spend a good portion of your bullriding career in pain. Dr. Tandy Freeman, the orthopedic surgeon for the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) once said, “About every third time a rider comes out of the chute on the back of a bull, he’s gonna get hurt with either a major or a minor injury.”

When I was riding bulls, I broke both of my legs and both of my arms and had to have screws put in my arms. About every part of my body either has been broken or hurt, and the bullrider I traveled with had many of those same problems. One of my traveling partners broke his jaw.

Getting hurt, being hurt and riding hurt is just a part of being a bullrider. However, you have to remember that I’d had 18 surgeries before I was 1 year old. So, being hurt and going to the doctor always had been a part of my life. I was unfazed.

Next: Tony Bell’s Mom Says No To Bull Riding – One of the Most Dangerous Sports

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at

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