The unexpected diagnosis of Nichole’s ALS in July 2019 was a shock for her family, friends, and colleagues. Nichole passed away amongst family April 1, 2022, and in her last act of generosity, she chose to donate her organs.
A loving daughter, sister, niece, aunt, and caring doctor, Nichole leaves to mourn her loving partner Pascal, siblings Michael (Michelle), Geralyn Riffel (Robert), Marc (Susanne), nieces, nephews, many cousins, aunts, uncles, and close friends. She was predeceased by her parents, Karl and Carmel Riese.
As a friend, colleague, and family member, Nichole was a generous, intelligent, fun, courageous, caring, self-confident, humorous person and who was a feminist, a natural teacher, and a great cook.
Nichole was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1959. In the same year, the family moved to New York, and then moved back home to Manitoba in 1962. Nichole graduated from St Mary’s Academy in 1977 and obtained her B.Sc. and Medical degrees at the U. of Manitoba, by 1984. She decided to take the Family Medicine residency at McMaster University.
Nichole’s adventurous and dynamic life took off from there. Service of the poor and striving for social justice, especially for Indigenous people, were to become the focus of her career. From residency, she volunteered in Jamaica at a Kingston-area health clinic in 1987 and again in 1988.
Nichole’s career as a doctor started in Chisasibi, Northern Québec for one year, learning about the local Cree culture and improving her French. She then moved to Kenora and had a busy clinical life including emergency shifts and delivering babies. After 6 years of experiencing many traumatised patients, she decided to do her Master’s in Community Health at the U. of M. She worked at inner-city community health centres and maintained shifts in smaller emergency departments to keep up her skills for work up north.
She was hired as Associate Director of “Ongomiizwin” Health (formerly the Northern Medical Unit (NMU at HSC), taking on administrative projects to improve health care delivery in northern First Nations communities. She periodically helped relieve doctors working up north (over 27 years).
Nichole took administrative leaves to do missions with Doctors Without Borders / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Burundi, Chad, and Haiti.
Afterwards, she specialised in addictions, her final vocation. Nichole helped cover the alcohol detoxification ward at HSC over the next 4 years. She continued part-time work for NMU and started doing locums in rehab at the Addiction Foundation of Manitoba (AFM). Nichole worked as a primary doctor at Women’s Rehab for 5 years, until her illness. She ran methadone clinics for 10 years, part-time for AFM.
Nichole served on the Board of Main Street Project from 2015 to 2019. Her health forced her to step down from the board, but she continued to volunteer at their foodbank.
Before her diagnosis, Nichole received an Award for Excellence from the Manitoba College of Family Physicians after 10 years of working in addictions and mental health, coaching younger doctors, and teaching others. Later, she was recognized with the first “Service to Others” Magis Award from St. Paul’s College, U. of M.
With family, Nichole was loving, generous, supporting and fun. Nichole was a natural with kids and spent many memorable times with nieces and nephews. She gave unending, loving support to her parents as their health declined.
Nichole was an energetic person, always happy to meet people and see the world. She loved being active with friends: paddling a canoe or kayak, camping, hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing, doing yoga, or swimming.
Nichole was an active environmentalist, and life-long gardener. She loved to read and was an avid fan of CBC radio. She was a devoted participant in Winnipeg’s cultural life, including concerts, the Folk Festival, the Fringe, the Art Gallery and MTC. In her special way, she touched us all in our hearts. Nichole was an ideal Canadian: a big-hearted, active citizen committed to improving the lot of vulnerable people.
The family sends their heartfelt thanks to Nichole’s wonderful homecare workers who cared for her during her last months. Thanks also to Dr. Bruce Martin, Dr. Kim Wiebe, Mark Barrett, as well as the HSC Organ Transplant team.
A private celebration of Nichole’s life will be held at a later time.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Main Street Project, Winnipeg; Doctors without Borders/Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), Toronto Office; or donations honouring Nichole’s commitment to social justice, health equity and empowerment of individuals facing structural barriers may be made to The Winnipeg Foundation, Nichole Riese Fund.
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