A liver health phenomenon

A liver health phenomenon

For years, Bertille Demers was known to some in Moncton, New Brunswick as a liver health story to remember. It wasn’t her always-ringing home phone lined with apprehensive voices asking questions about liver disease that gave her this title.

Instead, it was the fact that in 1987, when Bertille was closing in on 60 years old, she received her first and only liver transplant—an uncommon operation at the time and one that would lead her down an unlikely life path.

The Demers family at their home on Vista Drive in Moncton, NB circa 1965.

Bertille first began feeling unwell just two years earlier. She couldn’t pinpoint what exactly it was that was ‘wrong’ with her, but she soon became fed up with her unshakable feeling of fatigue and nausea. She decided it was time to see her doctor.

She soon received a scary diagnosis of ileitis colitis (an infection of the small intestine) and was told she had a bile duct blockage. Due to the backup of bile in her liver, Bertille was sent to the London Health Science Centre in London, Ontario, where she would end up spending the next three months in a convent near the hospital awaiting a transplant.

“Back then I knew my mother wasn’t feeling good at times, but I didn’t know much more,” says Julie, Bertille’s youngest of five children, who spoke with the CLF earlier this month. “Looking back as I got older, I realized she was actually on the transplant list that entire time.”

After months on end waiting by a pager, Bertille finally got the call that a perfect match was available. She underwent surgery and much to everyone’s amazement, she soon recovered completely with little complication.

 In 2001, Bertille was part the “Scoping for Health” campaign for The Moncton Hospital, which raised funds for the First Endoscopic Ultrasound in Atlantic

Bertille’s new life was met with early retirement. She bought a condo, returned to her passion for photography, made more time for friends, and enjoyed every moment of her newfound health.

Her philanthropic attitude really began to shine after her lifesaving operation as well.

“She would come home with clothing and other items which she would purchase at the Salvation Army or local garage sales and ask me ‘I wonder who could use these?’” says Julie. “She was always such a giving person.”

Eventually, this compassion led Bertille to the CLF, where she became a volunteer Chapter Head in Moncton and provided both liver health education and patient support to those in need.

“My mom helped a lot of liver disease patients in this area who had concerns, were frightened, or who were just at a loss for what to do,” says Julie. “She gave them positive encouragement just by showing them that she herself was a living example of how liver transplants still offer hope.”

Bertille and her children smile for the camera in front of a bright lakeside in New Brunswick.
Bertille and her children in Shediac, NB where they spent many summers together as a family.

Having just turned 90 years old on November 1, 2018, Bertille is a liver health phenomenon. With five children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, she may possibly be one of the oldest people in Canada still living with a transplanted liver. Unfortunately, Bertille has struggled with dementia over the last several years and now resides in a care facility. There is one thing, however, that she holds onto dearly.

“She still remembers her transplant,” says Julie. “She can recall a lot of her past, and she’s quick to discuss the memory and details of her transplant.”

Bertille with her grandchildren Ben and Sidney during the summer of 2018.

The CLF’s relationship with Bertille is one that stands the test of time. Through the years, we have both seen significant advancements in liver health, and we feel that Bertille played a significant role in spreading our mission to fund liver research and provide solace to those affected by liver disease. Of course, Julie felt that her mother would say the same.

“The CLF was an excellent resource for my mom,” says Julie. “We’ve always been grateful for the lessons my mom taught us in giving back to the CLF, but also, we remain grateful for how much the CLF gave her life meaning.”

If you would like to follow the path paved by Bertille and become a CLF volunteer, visit our volunteer page. Also on our site, find more details on the scope of liver transplants today and what can be expected.

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