The Kidney Foundation of Canada

Kidney Stories

Wendy Briere

In Memory

One Person’s Story of Living without a Cure

Wendy Briere recalls that prior to entering kindergarten, she had been diagnosed with what was then known as “Bright’s Disease”, an acute or chronic kidney disease that, if caught early enough, is currently manageable. Patients don’t necessarily progress to kidney failure. This was not the case for Wendy.
Wendy had needed two hearing aids when she was 9 years old. Nine years after having first gotten them, when returning to see if she could function without them, she was immediately passed on to a specialist and then another – a nephrologist. She was sent for numerous tests. In her teens, when expecting to learn about improvements in her hearing loss, she actually discovered that her kidneys were failing. Within 6 months, she started dialysis treatment within a hospital setting. A year and a half later, she received the hopeful call for a kidney transplant.

But the anti-rejection medications she had to take, to prevent her body from reacting negatively to the new and foreign kidney, caused her hair to fall out. When it grew back, for about a year it did so curly and out of control. But while her hair gradually grew back straight and normal, the transplanted kidney would not adapt to its new home. Wendy was told she had an overabundance of rare antibodies. These not only meant she would not be able to keep her kidney, but also that she would have to be removed from the transplant waiting list.
A year and a half later, however, another kidney specialist raised her hopes, connecting her with a team of Toronto doctors and nurses. In 1981, when Wendy was 23 years old, a second transplant was undertaken. But Wendy continued to have a tough time. From abdominal and ankle swelling due to excess water retention to bouts of depression and a number of Grand Mal Seizures, and other rising health issues, such as colds and viruses, Wendy’s body and psyche took a beating to try to keep the new organ she received in May. By February of the following year, the kidney had to be removed.
Four years later, another organ transplant opportunity presented itself and Wendy rose to the challenge. In Wendy’s words, “for the first eight weeks, the kidney just seemed to sleep”, then one Saturday morning when her husband came to visit, she felt a sudden, unusual urge…to pee! She had been unable to pass urine due to her malfunctioning kidneys, but the new kidney had her back to normal. Eight years from when she’d officially heard the diagnosis of “kidney failure”, she learned again what it meant to “feel good”.  Wendy’s transplant lasted a beneficial 21 years.
But as in the case of many renal patients, the transplant proved to be a remarkable treatment - not a cure.
In 2006, Wendy had to go back on dialysis and in 2012, she had a cancer removed and underwent radiation. She could not, due to her dialysis, undergo chemotherapy. Wendy’s health was such that she needed support services to function well, so she became the exceptional member of a Long-Term Care Facility and took on the role of President for the Residents’ Council. For the first months of 2014, at 56, Wendy was thriving in her own home with husband, Dan, and while health challenges persisted, she remained active in social media and continued to draw and paint. Wendy’s battle with kidney disease and numerous other health issues ceased the first weekend of May 2014. She will be remembered for the grace with which she met her many challenges; and the peace she made with them before her passing.