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facts & arguments

Wendy Anne Horton

Daughter, sister, brain tumour survivor, Tommy Hunter fan. Born on Aug. 10, 1962, in Gimli, Man.; died on April 21, 2015, in Brandon, Man., of unknown causes, aged 52.

When Wendy Anne was born, it was easy to imagine a beautiful life unfolding ahead of her. The first child of Robert and Jean Horton, she was precocious and lively. She loved jewellery, dolls, and displaying perfect manners. When she was 5, our father asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her answer: "Just a plain mum."

Earlier that same year, Wendy had begun having severe headaches. She was seen by many doctors, all of whom dismissed our parents' concerns that something was seriously wrong. When she was 7, they were able to get a referral to a pediatric neurologist in London, Ont. Using a simple fundoscope to conduct an ocular exam, the neurologist asked, in disbelief, "Hasn't anyone ever looked into this child's eyes?" He diagnosed her on the spot with a brain tumour.

Wendy had surgery a few days later. At first, it looked as if things had gone well, but then came fever and postoperative meningitis. That infection left her with tremendous brain damage. Our parents were advised to place her in an institution for the mentally retarded and move on with their lives.

Instead, they brought Wendy home. She had to learn to speak, read, walk and feed herself again. She had little short-term memory or impulse control; she was prone to rage and outbursts. Even though her intellect had largely been spared, she was placed in a classroom for severely mentally challenged children. She had no additional school or home supports; they were not the fashion of the times.

Despite her unfathomable challenges, the person she had been re-emerged. She still loved dolls and precious stones. She read obsessively about the Titanic and would speak repeatedly about her schemes to raise it. We went on long family vacations, which formed some of the happiest memories of her difficult life.

Wendy enjoyed throwing corncobs at seagulls along the shore of Lake Superior to watch them flock and fight for the kernels; years later, she would insist on throwing old corncobs out into the driveway, hoping birds would come. She had deep maternal instincts, begging endlessly to be "allowed" to have or adopt a baby. She fell in love with country music, and in particular with Tommy Hunter, who always made a point of speaking with her backstage when she attended his concerts at Centennial Auditorium in Brandon.

At 21, she could no longer attend school and because there were no programs in our community for people with brain injuries, she spent her days at home with our mother. Years later, a massive seizure robbed her of the use of her right side, and she was wheelchair bound from then on. Our parents were utterly devoted to her and always put her needs ahead of their own. For the last decade of Wendy's life, they managed every aspect of her care in a place they christened HOBI (Housing Options for the Brain Injured), visiting her for hours each day and leading a small team of caregivers who treated Wendy with profound compassion and love.

She died unexpectedly, in her sleep, surrounded by pictures of Tommy Hunter. Her suffering in her latter years was unbearable to watch, but even in the months before her death she would occasionally insist on throwing a corncob out into the driveway in the dead of winter. It is one of the best ways I can summarize the complex, indomitable spirit of my beloved sister: She was always remembering something better.

Jillian Horton is Wendy's youngest sister.