espree foscolos in nursing uniformA lifelong resident of San Bernardino now residing in Beaumont, Espree Foscolos will graduate on Friday, May 24, 2013, with an associates degree of science and a registered nursing (RN) degree after completing the rigorous SBVC nursing program. But, unlike most of her fellow 1,238 graduates, Espree survived a life-threatening car accident that required finding a way to learn in a whole new way.

A 2007 graduate from Arrowhead Christian Academy, Espree eventually followed her mother to the nursing program at SBVC.

“My mom had just started the registered nursing program and she inspired me to follow in her footsteps because she was strong enough went for it even though it was later in her life,” Espree shared. “For me, even as a senior in high school, I knew I wanted to go into the medical field because that is where we see the worst and best of people. I like that interaction and wanted to be able to make a difference for them during the toughest times of their lives.”

Because of the high demand in the popular nursing program, there is a lengthy waiting list to enter the program—one that future nurses can’t even register for until all of their prerequisite work is completed.

|Espree wrapped up her prerequisite work at SBVC’s sister school in Yucaipa, Crafton Hills College and found time to get married, work part-time at Immanuel Baptist Church, and purchase a home with her husband while waiting to ascend to the top of the nursing admission list. After 2.5 years, she got the call saying that she could finally get started in January 2011.

“I received a huge packet of information that basically told me to say goodbye to my family as this would be my life for the next two years,” Espree said. “Even though I had already seen my mom go through the entire program and knew I could do it—I still had no idea how challenging it would be until I actually got into it.”

Traffic Accident Leads To Life-Threatening Injury

On the way to the movie theater on a summer night in June 2011, Espree and her husband were in a serious multi-car accident on Interstate 10. The violent accident left Espree unconscious and her husband believing that his wife would not survive. Her husband suffered a broken shoulder, lacerated liver, and multiple broken ribs while Espree spent an entire week in the intensive care unit (ICU) with a left frontal subdural hematoma (bleeding in her brain), lost several teeth that were sheared off due to the impact, and had lacerations and hematomas all over her body. To this day, she still suffers from lingering neck and back issues from the accident.

“I could barely open my mouth and my family thought I would never look like me again,” Espree shared. “I don’t really remember those first two months after the accident beyond basically living on the couch with my two loving pit bulls Daisee and Delilah and my husband on the other couch trying to recover as well.”

Espree now realizes that her life may have been spared due in part to the decision to drive her grandfather’s large, steel-constructed, 20-year old pickup truck that fateful night.

“In any other vehicle, we probably would not have survived,” Espree said.

Relearning How To Learn

After needing a semester off from the nursing program, she was able to come back to school in January 2012, but she instantly noticed something was completely different after such a traumatic brain injury.

“I recognized that there was a huge difference with how I could actually learn things. Before the accident, I was a great multi-tasker, but now I can only do one specific thing at a time,” Espree said. “I learn very differently and can’t use flashcards. It’s as if something doesn’t work anymore and there was a circuit that was cut.”

Espree was forced to adjust to new routines in order to retain the information needed to continue with her studies. She tried recording lectures, going over notes in new and different ways, and found a way to absorb the information.

“That whole semester after I came back was a very big learning phase for me,” Espree said. “I would have hospital days that my head hurt so bad I couldn’t think and didn’t even know what do to. I had to learn how to get through those hurdles and my mother and husband were tremendous supporters.”

As she progressed through the program, Espree had the opportunity to treat patients in the hospital that suffered from some of the same injuries that nearly took her own life.

“I have a very big interest in the brain now. I’m just fascinated by it and love learning about it,” Espree said. “In the end, this accident will make be a better nurse because I know just a fraction of how they’re feeling and can help them adapt to that—along with their family.”

Because of her dedication to her studies, Espree will graduate from SBVC with honors—inexplicably earning better grades after her accident than before.

“That is just amazing to me and I don’t even know how I did it. I think I appreciated what I have more and took more time to focus. Now I have to get stuff together and study in a very organized way.”

Educational Journey Continues

After graduating from SBVC, Espree’s plans are to pass the NCLEX exam and continue pursuing a 4-year degree and then a master’s degree so that she can teach in a nursing school. Espree credits the excellent examples of SBVC nursing program instructors Michelle Spahn and Rochelle Fender for helping her succeed and showing her what it means to be a great teacher.

“Professor Fender is willing to do anything to help us reach our goals. You can just tell she wants us to be great and I hope I can be as good of a teacher as she is and be there for my students in that way,” Espree said. “I really appreciated that Michelle Spahn was willing to be there for me from practicing skills, to when I had a headache or if I just needed to cry. She is amazing and I hope I can be half the person she is.”

Although Espree still suffers from the memories of the accidents that come back in flashes, and is sensitive to high frequency noises, flashing lights, and other environmental factors, she is unafraid to continue her studies and is grateful for the experience in SBVC’s nursing program.

“I’ll always have this foundation that Valley gave me because of its amazing reputation in the hospitals—it’s why I came here,” Espree said. “Besides graduating without any school loans, hospitals hire SBVC students over those graduates from other schools and that is like icing on the cake.”