A Life Without Limits: How One Athlete is Redefining “Strength” with Support from Her DaVita Care Team
dumbbell on a gym floor with a sunset in the background

Bree Fausnaught was born to compete. Ever since she was old enough to walk in her first beauty pageant as a child, she’s been drawn to the stage — and to the goal of achieving the very best version of herself. When she discovered bodybuilding in her twenties, she knew she’d found her calling as an athlete and competitor.

Those dreams screeched to a halt in 2021 when a medical emergency landed Bree in the ER, where she woke up to the shocking discovery that she was in near-complete kidney failure. The weeks and months that followed brought the fight of her life, overcoming the physical and emotional challenges of end stage kidney disease (ESKD) to regain the joy, drive and passion that define her. Today Bree’s back to competition, stronger than ever and fueled by an even greater purpose than before: to inspire others facing adversity.

Bree’s journey is extraordinary. But she has learned that she’s not on this path alone. “I thought I was the only thirty-three-year-old with chronic kidney disease,” she recalls. “But now that I’m putting my story out there, I’ve heard from so many others.”

From day one, helping relieve the sense of isolation that can come with chronic disease and dialysis was a priority for Bree’s DaVita care team in Kansas City. “In general, dialysis patients tend to be older and have other health conditions,” explains Emily Payne, LMSW, the social worker who has been with Bree from the start. “So, it’s natural for younger patients to feel different, and very alone.”

Emily encouraged Bree to explore community support resources, including online forums. She also assisted Bree with the countless practical issues that accompany a life-changing medical diagnosis, from navigating financial challenges to accessing mental health care.

For Bree’s care team, healing begins with knowing and appreciating each patient as a unique individual. “We didn’t know a lot about the sport of bodybuilding at the beginning,” says Emily. “But our message to Bree was, ‘Teach us about what you love, and we’ll do everything we can to get you there.’”

Even though Bree was seriously ill when she first began treatment, her team brought heartfelt positivity and genuine optimism to every interaction. Asked if she ever doubted that someone with kidney disease could pursue professional athletic competition, Bree’s nurse Michelle Bickham, BSN, responds, “No way. I never had one moment of doubt that Bree could do anything she set her mind to.”

Bree found that same positivity in her nephrologist, Michael Lambert, MD.

“He absolutely never told me no,” says Bree. “Initially, some people told me I would never be able to work out or compete again, but not my DaVita team. They really helped me see that the only limitations were in my own mind. And once I understood that, there’s truly nothing I couldn’t do, whatever kind of goal I was pursuing.”

For dietitian Renee Hintz, MSRDLD, focusing on wellness rather than illness was the key, especially early on. “Bree went through a very low period at the beginning, which is so understandable,” Renee recalls. “But we knew that as an athlete, she had what it takes to really manage this disease. At first it was about helping her realize, ‘I’m not as sick as I think I am.’”

Today, Bree is Renee’s dream patient. “She’s extremely well-informed about nutrition, and incredibly motivated to keep her labs in the right range for a future transplant.”

“I love getting bloodwork!” Bree confirms. “It’s been so positive for me to be able to literally see in data how my diet and exercise affect my test results. I resented having to do it at first, but now it’s an essential part of my training and my self-care.”

Bree also points out that routine bloodwork and medical care earlier in her life might have helped her identify her disease before severe kidney damage set in. “I want everybody to know that kidney disease doesn’t discriminate, it can happen to anyone, regardless of race, age, gender, athletic ability. That’s why you have to see the doctor, get the physicals, get the bloodwork — even when you’re young and healthy. Learn about your body, because it’s the one thing you have for life.”

Today Bree competes in a bikini that reveals her abdominal dialysis port. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a little hard to adjust to the idea of what people would think about that,” she says. “But now I say ‘tube, schmoob!’ It’s just a part of how I live my life, but it doesn’t define me.”Pull quote: If my example can help just one other person overcome limits and fulfill their potential, then I know I’m doing what I was put on this earth to do.

 

Social worker Emily supports that sentiment. “We always tell people, you are so much more than a medical diagnosis and a treatment. Dialysis can help you keep on living the life you want to live.”

As Bree keeps busy staying in shape for future competitions and a hoped-for transplant, her competitive fighting spirit is stronger than ever. Only now, “winning” carries a whole new meaning.

“I’ve learned that my experience can help other people reach their goals,” says Bree, who loves to receive emails from those who’ve been touched by her story. “Yes, I want to compete as a bodybuilder, and I want to win. But it’s about more than that for me now. If my example can help just one other person overcome limits and fulfill their potential, then I know I’m doing what I was put on this earth to do.”

 

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