Calgary Health Trust

Sarah's Story - Complex Immune Disease

Sarah O’Neil’s story reminds us of how precious our health is, and how we can so easily take it for granted until it is taken from us.


Sarah went to the hospital with food poisoning symptoms: cramping, vomiting and diarrhea. A healthy woman, she fully expected to receive treatment and return home. But after receiving a CT scan and learning her kidneys were failing; Sarah was sent to Foothills Medical Centre and put on apheresis treatment through a line in her neck. That was the beginning of a long journey of treatments, including dialysis, and cardiac, bone marrow and kidney biopsies.

Finally, the difficult decision was made to remove Sarah’s spleen. “After they removed the spleen, everything turned around and I started to feel normal again. I was able to go home for a few days,” Sarah explains of a time that she will never forget.

Sarah is still currently dealing with her chronic kidney disease, something she will have to manage for the rest of her life, but the experience has given her new perspective. She is living life to the fullest, and using her story to inspire and share with others with the hopes of creating awareness, developing new research and treatment to help those living with complex immune diseases.

Below Sarah explains the experience in her own perspective. 

Sarah with her physician, Dr. Louis- Philippe Girard

1.   How has this experience changed your outlook on life and health?

My outlook on life has now changed for the better. Since being through this life threatening experience, it has made me realize that life really is precious and living life to the fullest is what is most important.

2.    How has your auto immune disease changed your lifestyle today?

When I recovered from the disease I was unsure of how normal I would feel again. I still struggled physically and mentally. When I was in the hospital, I was able to stay positive for 99% of the time, which I felt really helped me to heal and it wasn’t until after everything got better that I started to feel the mental repercussions. I have been able to overcome the mental side effects as well as get back to how I was physically before I got sick. I have felt the most normal now since being sick and I would say that took about 5 years all together.

I am able to exercise again, walk and run without struggle and eat a mostly regular diet, but always watching out for my kidney disease. I still ride horses just as I did before and travel now without worrying too much if something happened would I receive the care I need.

I would say that my lifestyle hasn't changed drastically if anything I live life more, to the fullest now because I appreciate everything that much more!

3.    How did your relationships with hospital and medical staff affect your experience?

I had exceptional care from the medical staff. The friendships and great care I received during the time I was sick definitely made me feel so comfortable and safe.

4.    Is there something you didn’t know about Complex Immune Diseases that surprised you or you didn’t know before?

I did not know what Complex Immune Disease even meant before I became sick. I was a regular healthy young individual before I became sick, so I never thought about any severe health issues. I think the biggest thing that surprised me is how complex the human body really is. It amazes me even still how the body can go through something so complex and yet bounce back so well. I am happy I have a better understanding so I can be proactive about my health and body.

5.    Why it is important to you to share your story and give back to health care?

I believe it is important to share my story so that we can research and explore more into new treatments and ways of helping people with complex immune diseases. It is vitally important to do this. Without the proper information patients will not receive adequate treatment. So with the knowledge of my case we can help patients in the future.

To find out more about donating to complex immune, please email Lori Humphrey Clements or call 403-944-4427.