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Benefit will help longtime local nurse

It’s been a tough 18 months for Brenda (Gilbertson) Riley.

On Christmas Eve in 2012, she got the news from her doctor that a spot they had found during a routine mammogram was cancerous. It was a small spot, but she still needed surgery and six and a half weeks of radiation.

Then, while she and her medical team worked through that treatment, a liver test came up as abnormal. After more tests she was diagnosed with primary sclerosing cholangitis, or PSC, which is a rare liver disease that causes the bile ducts in the liver to narrow, said Dr. Christina Pieper-Bigelow, a friend and co-worker of Riley’s. Pieper-Bigelow said she only diagnoses one or two patients with PSC a year. Although Pieper-Bigelow specializes in gastroenterology, she is not the doctor treating Riley because of their association as close co-workers and friends.

Bile ducts drain fluid out of the liver, she explained.

“That’s essential for digestion and absorption of nutrients,” she said.

When the bile ducts narrow, fluid doesn’t drain properly. That can lead to liver infections. Doctors can put in stents to improve the flow of fluids, but the disease is progressive, so it can plug up the stents.

Ultimately, the disease progresses to the point of liver failure, at which point a liver transplant is the only solution. And currently, there’s not much doctors can do.

“We don’t really know what causes it,” Pieper-Bigelow said. “There’s no cure, there’s no medical treatment. … So it’s very serious. It’s probably more serious than the early breast cancer that they found.”

For the past year, Riley has been working through ongoing tests and treatments while continuing to work full-time as a nurse at the Allina clinic in Hastings.

“The disease is exhausting, the treatment we have is exhausting and it’s progressive,” Pieper Bigelow said. “She’s tired, she’s handling it as best she can.”

The benefit

To help Riley manage accumulating medical bills, friends and family have organized a benefit event, “Bee There for Brenda.”

The event took on a springtime theme, said Jessica Dodge, a family friend who is helping organize the event. They wanted to show their support, and the idea “be there for Brenda” came about. Then someone drew a bee on it and the spring theme took off.

There will be live entertainment featuring local musicians and The Walleyes. There will also be a taco bar, drawings and a silent auction. Some auction items include Twins tickets, sports memorabilia, gift certificates to local businesses, themed baskets and more.

The event is scheduled from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, May 17, at the 2nd Street Depot in downtown Hastings. Local performers will play on an outdoor stage from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., and The Walleyes will start at 7:30 p.m. There will be a tent set up for shelter.

Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Tickets can be purchased at the 2nd Street Depot or by emailing More information can also be found on the Facebook page “Bee There for Brenda.”

About Brenda

Riley was born and raised in Hastings and graduated from Hastings High School in 1975.

“She’s been a forever resident of Hastings,” Dodge said.

Her parents still live here, as does one brother. She is the mother of three daughters and has one granddaughter. She started working as an LPN in the clinic when it was still the River Valley Clinic, before it became part of Allina, and has been a nurse there for 31 years now, Bigelow said.

“She’s sacrificed a lot and has been a great employee and a wonderful nurse to me,” she said.