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'My boys have a mom because of her': South Coast mom's life saved by yoga classmate when she went into cardiac arrest

Claire and Erika selfie.jpg
Claire saved Erika's life when she went into cardiac arrest in a yoga class.

It started as a normal yoga class for a Ventura County woman but before it was over, she saved the life of one of her classmates.

Claire Gillette had just finished a 12-hour shift in the emergency room at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks on October 8, 2021.

She was exhausted, but rather than heading straight home, she spotted an open spot for a hot yoga class and decided she had the energy to do it.

Had she not chosen to attend the class, after her shift, what happened next might have turned out a lot differently.

"We'd almost finished the class, we were 51 minutes into the class," Gillette told KCLU.

It was that knowledge and her experience in the ER that locked into place in that yoga class when, toward the end of class, Gillette saw the instructor checking on someone in the front row of class and heard stirrings of “Is she O.K.?” and “Erika!”

Gillette rushed to the front of the class where she saw a woman curled up on her yoga mat. Her skin was blue. And she had no pulse.

“The music’s going, it’s hot and humid and I’m screaming ‘Turn off the music! Cool off the room! Get me an AED! Call 911!'” Gillette said.

Somebody ran to get an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) as Gillette pumped the woman’s chest, doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Twice, the woman’s heart rhythm flatlined and twice, Gillette had to shock her with the AED.

"I realized, it's just me until the 911 turns up," she recalled.

“I was getting tired doing CPR, but her friend was saying ‘She has two kids!’ and I thought, ‘I’m going to save her if it kills me,’” Gillette said.

Gillette was relieved when firefighters and paramedics arrived to transport the woman, who she would later learn was named Erika Cole, to Los Robles Hospital.

“I knew I was on the yoga floor one minute and the next thing I remember is waking up in the cath (catheter) lab,” Cole said. “I was intubated. I didn’t remember anything.”

"I was in the child's pose, and just didn't get up and Claire, I guess, came straight over. If you look at my Apple watch, it reads that my heart rate was 278, and then zero, zero, zero."

Had Gillette not joined the class on that particular day, and had she not been prepared with nursing skills she learned at CSUCI, the husband and two sons of Erika Cole, 44, would be spending the holidays without her.

“Claire is the only reason I’m alive today,” Cole said.

Cole said she was diagnosed with Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a rare but temporary condition in which the heart muscle becomes stunned or weakened, usually because of emotional or physical stress.

After the medical team stabilized Cole, Cole insisted on meeting the nurse who had saved her life.

Gillette was working that night, so Gillette paid a visit to Cole’s hospital room.

“Claire walked in and said, ‘I’m pretty sure I broke all your ribs, but I was put in that room to save your life,’” Cole said. “I started crying. My husband and kids will have me around. I’ll get to live to see my grandchildren.”

“We were holding hands and she was telling me she loves me,” Gillette said. “We’re best friends now. We talk every day.”

"It's hard to remember life before Claire. My boys have a mom because of her."

Gillette has become a part of Cole’s family, which includes Cole’s husband, Trevor, and her two sons, Tyler, 15, and Caleb, 10.

Gillette is a regular at the Cole dinner table, and earlier this month, both Gillette and Cole got matching tattoos on the inside of their forearms with the Roman numerals to represent Oct. 8, 2021 and the infinity symbol, as they know they will be in each other’s lives from now on.

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They recently got matching tattoos