MARIA Guia Cabillon, fondly called by many as Mama Guia, spent more than three decades of her life as a nurse.
She was described as the “number one ally, caregiver and mom to the nurses and staunchly protected all the techs” and “a legend.”
Cabillon was the Head Nurse at Kings County Department of Emergency Medicine in Brooklyn, which has overtaken Queens as the epicenter of the novel coronavirus in the United States today.
She passed away on April 26 from COVID-19 after almost a month of battling the infectious disease. She was 63.
Rob Gore is one of the doctors who called Cabillon ‘Mama Guia.’ He said he sat next to Cabillon almost every night shift for close to 14 years.
“[She is] one of the toughest, most feared and one of my favorite nurses,” Dr. Gore, an emergency medicine physician at Kings County, wrote on his online journal. “We talked trash to each other. She introduced me to her relatives in the U.S. and whenever possible we faced time her family in the Philippines.”
Gore’s work at Kings Against Violence (KAVI), a nonprofit he founded to help at risk students, earned him a CNN Hero award in 2018. He praised Cabillon for her commitment, and that despite talks of retiring soon, she “fought alongside and in front of us” during this pandemic.
“She trained, groomed and nurtured countless healthcare providers around the world with her own unique style and voice. We will never forget you,” he added.
Cabillon is survived by her husband, four daughters and two grandchildren.
A GoFundMe page has been set up as a means to help bring her back home to Iloilo and proceeds will go directly to her daughters here in the United States, Fatima and April.
Fatima described her mother as selfless and as someone who loves unconditionally. She said she became a nurse as well because she wanted to follow her mother’s footsteps.
“I am who I am now because of you. I became a nurse because I admire you and how you treat your kids in the ER,” Fatima wrote. “You trained me to become a good nurse and most of all a better person, that I should always think about others first.”
“She was the glue that cemented and kept the ER staff the way it is. She ran a tight ship at the zoo that the ER can be and she ran it effortlessly,” the GoFundMe page described Cabillon. “Selflessly, she took all residents, attendings, nurses, EMTs, PCA, PCTs, techs, and many others under her wings and treated us nothing short as her own children. Whatever she had, she would share.”
The initial goal of $30,000 has been reached, and along with it, an outpouring of support from co-workers, former patients and people whose lives she has touched.
It is evident in the testimonials left by some of the donors, including a resident who said Cabillon “taught us more about caring for sick patients than anyone else” and that she was dearly loved as she “has been a rock and mother to all faculty, residents and staff of the SUNY Downstate-KCH Emergency Medicine Department.”
“Words are insufficient to fully describe her,” Shane De Gracia, a co-worker at Kings County, told the Asian Journal. She has worked with Cabillon for six and a half years.
Asked about the biggest lesson she learned from Cabillon in those years of working together, De Gracia responded: selflessness and kindness.
“Mama Gui gave herself to everyone without asking for anything in return. She’s a giver and I’d say she is the epitome of what a giver is,” she added.
Cabillon is the first person they have lost in their department, following an ICU attending who died early this week and a pediatrics nurse who passed away a few weeks ago.
De Gracia says it has been “madness” and a “rollercoaster ride of emotions” when asked to describe how it is working in a hospital right smack in the middle of the epicenter of the coronavirus in New York.
“At times you feel helpless for the patients. There were shifts where it has been so busy that you don’t even have the opportunity to mourn the patient before another critical patient comes through the door,” De Gracia said.
She also posted an emotional tribute to Cabillon on Facebook.
“HERO doesn’t begin to define you. Your love for the work you do is evident in everything you’ve done and how much you’ve affected every single life that was blessed to cross your path, be it nurse, PCA, PCTs, techs, doctors, patients, family members,” she wrote. “Your death is not in vain. You did what you loved til the very end, which was to take care of others. I can only aspire to be an inkling of the kind of nurse and person you were. You devoted your life to the service of others.”
De Gracia also remembered how Cabillon was a mother to the nurses as she took them under her wing as if they were her own children.
“You protected us the way a mother lion protected her cubs. You fed us, sometimes overfed us because you just won’t take no for an answer when you offered food. You shared your wisdom and expertise as a nurse through the stories you’ve told and by simply seeing the way you work,” De Gracia wrote.
Editor’s note: The Asian Journal is working to document those of Filipino descent who have lost their lives because of the coronavirus in the United States. If you know of someone or would like to offer a remembrance of someone who has died of COVID-19, please tell us about them by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Remembering Lives Lost.”