ICU Patient Inspired by Care Becomes RN
Jun 12, 2021
Ashley Boarman
Yodit Mender, CNA, and Kayla Elias, RN, stand side by side at CPMC Van Ness Campus hospital where they now work together

Six years ago, 19-year-old Kayla Elias told her mom to take her to the hospital.

“I felt like I was dying,” she remembers with a wince.

Her memories from that time are “not fresh,” she says. “I was so weak.”

Elias’ case escalated quickly. She was admitted to Sutter Solano Medical Center and then transferred to Sutter’s California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) Pacific Heights campus intensive care unit in San Francisco. Elias required intubation and was eventually able to turn a corner after two weeks. It took her several more weeks of physical therapy to regain her strength.

A summer gone sideways

It was the summer of 2015 and life was good. Elias had just wrapped up her first year of community college and was set to begin a nursing program in the fall. What wasn’t on her calendar—a stint in the ICU. The unexpected life-threatening experience did not leave her jaded, though. Rather, Elias walked away holding a very different memory close to her heart—one of comfort and love, as well as admiration for the kind of nurturing caregiver she was aspiring to be one day.

Elias recalls receiving a great deal of support and compassionate care from everyone during those long days in the hospital, including from Certified Nursing Assistant Yodit Mender.

“When I was in pain, Yodit was there gently reassuring me that I would be OK,” said Elias.

Elias mentions Mender’s calming presence and shares how she never judged her while she was having a tough emotional moment, breaking down from exhaustion, or being loopy from her medications. Even to this day, Elias hangs onto a picture of Jesus that Mender gave her to help her through this dark time.

“I remember praying for a miracle … please let this girl be all right,” said Mender. “I was worried about her and thought about her. I hoped she would get better.”

Yodit Mender, CNA, and Kayla Elias, RN, stand side by side at CPMC Van Ness Campus hospital where they now work together

Yodit Mender, CNA (left), and Kayla Elias, RN (right), now work on the same unit at CPMC Van Ness Campus in San Francisco.

Remarkable reunion

Today, Elias has reunited with the woman who showed her such gentle care all those years ago—not as strangers meeting on the street but as colleagues on CPMC’s new Van Ness campus’ cardiovascular unit.

Elias is now a registered nurse on the unit, having received her degree from Pacific Union College, and able to provide patients with the same compassionate care she received from Mender and others

Elias praises the kindness of additional staff, including Ava Archuleta, RN; Eiji Kobayashi, RN; Christopher Lew, RN; and Edmundo Merida-Rojas, CNA, all of whom still work for CPMC, except now at the medical center’s Van Ness campus.

“I had no idea they’d be here,” remarks an astonished Elias. “It’s amazing.”

“When I came onto the unit, I began recognizing the same faces I once saw from my hospital bed. I’d get excited and ask, ‘Do you remember me? I was your patient. You took care of me!’”

She even shared an Instagram photo of her time in the ICU.

“As soon as I saw the photo, I remembered her. I could not believe it. It was Kayla,” said Mender.

Employer of choice

Elias feels fortunate to be back at a Sutter hospital, this time on the caregiving side. She knew she wanted to live in San Francisco and was delighted to land a nursing job with CPMC.

“Staff here are so knowledgeable, smart and confident,” Elias said. “The care is incredible. I really liked the care I had, and now I can give that amazing care back to my own patients.”

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