Janessa (2024)

No parent wants to be apart from their child. It is especially difficult when that child is very sick.

“I would just cry when family and friends asked about her,” says Brenda Dumas.

Brenda was eight months pregnant when her oldest daughter, Janessa, was rushed by Medivac from the General Hospital in The Pas to HSC Children’s Hospital. Janessa, 11 years old at the time, was curled in a fetal position screaming in pain as she left that day.

But Janessa’s health journey started much earlier. At age five she started having high fevers and recurring urinary tract infections (UTIs). Nearly every two months for a year Brenda would seek help at the local nursing station in Pukatawagan. Nurses did not know the cause, so they did their best to treat the symptoms and offer cleaning suggestions. But the UTIs got worse, and Janessa was in more and more pain, so Brenda and her husband Gary Colomb packed up Janessa and drove from their home in Pukatawagan to The Pas emergency room. There doctors provided medication, ran tests and referred her to HSC Children’s Hospital in Winnipeg.

At HSC Children’s, doctors told the family that young Janessa’s kidneys weren’t functioning properly; one was small and the other was diseased, causing urine to backup into the kidneys and triggering the UTIs. A surgical procedure was done to insert a gel pack that would prevent further backup, but Janessa’s diseased kidney was the bigger concern.

“The UTIs stopped, but her health continued to decline,” says Brenda.

The family took the train or airplane every three months from Pukatawagan to Winnipeg for check-ups, leaving behind their two younger sons with family members each time. By age seven, Janessa was diagnosed with Stage 3 kidney disease but was stable for several more years, able to enjoy the activities she loved in her community like ice fishing and skidooing.

“She was an active kid – she loved being outside with friends,” laughs Brenda.

But that all changed. One weekend after spending time outside, Janessa developed a high fever. Brenda wondered if she was just sick from being in the cold weather but then the vomiting started and would not stop. Brenda was pregnant and on bed rest, so Gary made the trip to HSC Children’s with his daughter.

“Her dad and I stayed in contact the whole time. We were both so scared for our daughter.”

Janessa had reached Stage 4 kidney disease, with 25 per cent kidney function that continued to decline.

Brenda made the decision to go visit her daughter for a couple days. “I was so relieved to get there to see her.” Brenda says the doctors and nurses took care of them both. “They said, ‘we’re going to get Janessa home with you before that baby is born,’” says Brenda fondly, “and they did.”

Janessa was home for the birth of her baby sister but within a few months she developed anemia and renal failure seizures began.

“That’s when we decided to move to Winnipeg to stay close to her and her care.”

The family packed up the kids and found a place to live near the hospital. Janessa was now in kidney failure and a transplant was the next step.

COVID-19 in early 2020 created a significant setback, slowing the process of the required tests to join the transplant list. In November 2020, at 12 years old, Janessa joined the list. 

“I was relieved as she no longer had energy and no appetite. I just wanted it to happen so she could start to feel better. They told us there was a risk the body might reject the new kidney, so that still scared us.”

In December 2020, Janessa had her kidney transplant, and the surgery went well.

“The doctors and nurses were very good…helpful and caring to Janessa. They were awesome,” says Brenda. “Janessa and the kidney are doing very well… she has named her kidney ‘Bob’.”

Janessa is now a teenager and back in her home community enjoying the activities she loves, like dancing and learning how to make snowshoes. She will continue to visit the hospital every few weeks for checkups on her kidney function. Janessa’s family is grateful for the pediatric specialists they rely on, and the care Janessa has received.

“The Children’s Hospital helped my child and gave her a chance to live a normal life again.”

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