By Curtis J Phillips
At the 2006 World Fire Fighters Games held in Hong Kong, China the contingent representing Team Canada won a total of nine gold medals to assist them to a 17th place in the 35-country multi-sport event.
One of those gold medals was earned through the sweat and hard work of Fort McMurray’s Brian Briere.
Standing 6-foot-2 and tipping the scales at 240 pounds, Briere was a confident and powerful man, taking on all comers in the heavyweight and unlimited weight divisions in the sport of arm wrestling.
Briere, founder and president of the Fort McMurray Arm Wrestling Association (2000), also brought home a bronze medal from these prestigious games when he joined Team Scotland in the tug-of-war competition.
Power was his presence, his persona.
Fast forward eight years and that power has been totally sapped with Briere struggling to curl 15 pound weights.
At the young age of 41, he has been challenged by a life changing medical diagnosis called Symptomatic Pineal Cyst.
According to his wife in a written statement, Briere “has been struggling for the last year-and-a half with debilitating symptoms such as fainting, dizziness, nausea, loss of vision, fatigue, muscle spasms and insomnia.”
Symptomatic Pineal Cyst may also lead to anxiety, extreme mood swings and heart issues.
“My doctor figures I may have had this cyst in my brain for about 10 years,” said Briere, who has been off work since December due to the progressive nature of his illness. “I stopped competitive arm wrestling about three years ago because I could not get myself to the gym anymore. I was always tired. At first I thought it was just a testosterone thing. I never felt so weak and was tired all the time.”
About a year-and-a-half ago Briere said he noticed a dramatic change in that, “I was really fatigued and having trouble with dizziness and falling over when bending down to pick things up.”
After a few months of tests he was given the diagnosis of Symptomatic Pineal Cyst.
Briere was shaken to discover that Alberta Health Services does not cover surgical costs for removal as the cyst is considered benign and therefore an ‘elective surgery’. He has been told that there are no surgeons in Canada able to perform such an operation on this rare medical condition.
Fort McMurray’s Shane Wambolt was also diagnosed with Symptomatic Pineal Cyst in 2010. It was only after his parents mortgaged their home in Nova Scotia along with various fundraisers here in town, that he had surgery at a California clinic totaling approximately $250,000.
Briere has talked to Wambolt who says he is “100% symptom free.”
With that in mind, Briere has now been scheduled for a November 12, 2014 operation in Houston, Texas by Dr. Kim director of Neurosurgery at Memorial Herman.
The operation is not cheap, with a budget around $150,000 or higher depending on Briere’s post-operative recovery and the possibilities of any complications.
“When you get hit with something like this it changes your life,” said Briere, whose son Dylan was a quarterback for the Westwood Community High School Trojans. “Being off work the paycheques go down. We have had to sell off our skidoos and quad and we are trying to make ends meet.”
To date $30,000 has been fundraised. But it is more than just money for Briere.
“I hope to get back. I want to get back to work as I always have been an active guy. I can still compete in arm wrestling for a good 10 years or more. I want to have my quality of life back.”
If you are interested in donating or learning more, you may go to www.youcare.com and find BetterBrianFund.
Catch you on the rebound.