British Columbia

Patient remembers 'so much pain' during surgery assisted by fake nurse at Vancouver hospital

Alexandra Tymkiw encountered Brigitte Cleroux during one of her most vulnerable moments. It was Dec. 15, 2020, and Tymkiw was a patient at B.C. Women's Hospital, about to have surgery to remove a polyp from her uterus.

Brigitte Cleroux has never been licensed as a nurse and faces charges in Vancouver and Ottawa

Alexandra Tymkiw recently received a letter from B.C. Women's Hospital letting her know that the woman who provided perioperative nursing care during her surgery in December 2020 was not actually licensed as a nurse. (Submitted by Alexandra Tymkiw)

Alexandra Tymkiw encountered Brigitte Cleroux during one of her most vulnerable moments. It was Dec. 15, 2020, and Tymkiw was a patient at B.C. Women's Hospital in Vancouver, about to have surgery to remove a polyp from her uterus.

Cleroux was presented to her as a perioperative nurse who would be administering pain medication during the procedure, according to Tymkiw, a 40-year-old Burnaby resident.

Tymkiw said she was immediately struck by Cleroux's demeanour. She described her as loud, condescending and self-aggrandizing, which she found unusual for a health professional.

"I got on the table and I had my legs in stirrups and I was disrobed from the waist down, legs wide open, so they can operate on me. And I'm pretty nervous," Tymkiw recalled.

"I'm just saying to myself, 'OK, these are professionals … don't worry.'"

But as it turns out, they weren't all professionals.

Brigitte Cleroux, 49, is accused of posing as a nurse using falsified credentials in Vancouver and Ottawa. (Ottawa Police Service)

On Thursday, Tymkiw received a letter from the hospital, informing her that Cleroux did not have any nursing credentials when she assisted with that surgery.

In fact, Cleroux, 49, has been arrested and charged with fraud over $5,000 and personation with the intent to gain advantage. Vancouver police say she used the name of a real nurse to gain employment at the hospital, where she provided care to patients from June 2020 to June 2021.

Tymkiw also learned that Cleroux is facing similar charges in Ottawa, and has a long history of impersonation.

'Right away, there's tons of pain'

Tymkiw was deeply disturbed by the news, but it also raised new questions about her frightening experience during what should have been a relatively routine procedure.

She said her surgery was performed under local anaesthetic while Cleroux administered pain medication.

"Right away, there's tons of pain. I have a line in at the time and I'm supposed to be getting painkillers, but there's pain," Tymkiw said.

Brigitte Cleroux is shown in an older photo shared by the College of Nurses of Ontario. (College of Nurses of Ontario)
She tried to hide her discomfort, assuming the pain was normal, and endeavoured to breathe her way through it.

"Nothing was helping, and it got to the point where I was kind of squirming away from the surgeon. I remember my legs were just shaking, so there was so much pain," Tymkiw said.

She said Cleroux was asked to release more pain medication, but it didn't help. Tymkiw describes it as "10 out of 10 pain — and I've had a kidney stone."

Eventually, the surgeon had to stop the procedure, Tymkiw said.

CBC News has seen no evidence that Cleroux is responsible for the severe pain Tymkiw experienced, and Cleroux has not been charged with any offences in connection to the direct treatment of patients in B.C.

In Ottawa, however, she has been charged with assault with a weapon and criminal negligence causing bodily harm for allegedly administering medication and injections to patients at a fertility clinic without the necessary qualifications.

'Why didn't you just finish nursing school?'

Tymkiw said she hasn't heard from police about their investigation.

She's wrapping up training to become a registered massage therapist, and said she's acutely aware of how little public discussion there is about women's health — particularly when it comes to reproductive and gynecological matters.

Because of this stigma, Tymkiw said she's spent most of the last year thinking her experience in surgery was normal. It was only after her twin sister underwent the same procedure and wasn't in excruciating pain that Tymkiw realized there was something unusual about what happened to her.

That's what makes Tymkiw so angry about Cleroux's alleged fraud. 

"Her having the audacity to just forge her way in there is just so disturbing," Tymkiw said. "Seeing this other woman in a vulnerable position, in a lot of pain and with her legs spread."

According to court documents, Cleroux completed two years of a four-year nursing program in Colorado, but has never been certified as a nurse. She was first convicted in relation to posing as a nurse in 2005 in Ontario, and has a history of similar crimes in Alberta and Quebec.

WATCH | Patients disturbed to learn they were treated by fake nurse: 

Patients shocked after learning they’d been treated by fake nurse

2 months ago
Duration 2:17
A woman has been charged with fraud and personation after allegedly posing as a nurse at a Vancouver hospital for more than a year, leaving several patients in disbelief. 2:17

All this history leaves Tymkiw with one question.

"All the trouble she went to to fake being a nurse, it's like, why didn't you just finish nursing school?" she said.

In the letter Tymkiw received about Cleroux, chief operating officer Cheryl Davies says the hospital and the Provincial Health Services Authority are now conducting a comprehensive review to determine how Cleroux was allowed to work there.

Cleroux is scheduled to make her first appearance in Vancouver provincial court on Dec. 7.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bethany Lindsay

Journalist

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at bethany.lindsay@cbc.ca or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay.

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