LISBON — Renee Brodeur seldom let life get her down, even as a rare autoimmune disease ravaged her body and left her unable to walk across the room in the morning.
This past weekend, the beloved 26-year-old Lisbon woman who underwent a double lung transplant last summer lost her longtime battle. The Monmouth Academy graduate and one-time basketball standout was diagnosed in 2008 with Still's disease, a rare form of arthritis characterized by high, spiking fevers and debilitating pain.
"It's been a long, long road — I'll tell you that," said Brodeur's mother, Madeleine. "And she fought it like a trooper every day."
One in 100,000 people suffer from Still's disease. Brodeur had an even rarer adult onset version of the juvenile disease. As if facing the autoimmune disease wasn't hard enough, Brodeur was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension in 2010.
She was one of four people in the world with both conditions.
Brodeur passed away Saturday at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland. Madeleine Brodeur said her daughter had spent much of the past year in and out of the hospital following a double lung transplant that doctors considered her only hope of leading a normal life.
But Renee developed chronic rejection, an irreversible condition that led to her death.
"I just don't think those lungs ever really got along with Renee," her mother said. "There's never any guarantee. It just progressed. It was one thing after another."
Despite her setbacks, Madeleine Brodeur said her daughter never gave up hope and never lost her sense of humor. After her death, the family agreed to allow doctors to perform an autopsy in hopes of helping other patients suffering from the same condition.
For the family, however, peace comes in knowing they did everything they could to help Renee. From regular trips to the Cleveland clinic to organizing spaghetti dinners to help cover travel costs associated with having to be ready at a moment's notice when a set of lungs became available, the Brodeurs rallied behind Renee.
"We can't change our journey," Madeleine said. "You know, you always think it's going to happen to the neighbors, but life doesn't always work out that way."
Before falling ill, Renee worked for Legal Services for the Elderly in Augusta, attended Central Maine Community College and studied art at the University of Maine at Augusta. She loved watching sports with her father, Gaetan Brodeur, and continued playing basketball and tennis as long as she could.
Madeleine Brodeur said she hopes to be an advocate who can help other transplant patients and their families.
"I want to support other people who have transplants," Brodeur said. "It's all about keeping it personal for each person. You have to be there for them."
A memorial gathering will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday at Pinette & Lynch Funeral Home in Lewiston, with a celebration of Renee's life at 2 p.m.