When Claire Gillette scooped up the last slot in an early morning yoga class on a whim, she was just looking to unwind after working another overnight shift as an ER nurse. She never dreamed she was destined to save a woman’s life.
Warning Signs in Yoga Class
“How’s your arm?” Claudia Alter asked her friend, Erika Cole.
“Still tingles,” Erika replied, stretching into a warrior yoga pose. Erika — a 44-year-old Thousand Oaks, California mother of two — figured she’d strained her shoulder during the intense Tabata yoga workouts she’d been taking. The exercises included lifting weights, performing sit-ups, and doing lunges.
But as the class lowered themselves to the mats for a cool down period, the instructor’s eyes went wide. He saw Erika, who was in the front row, go completely limp.
“Are you okay?” he called out, his gaze fixed on Erika.
Claudia looked at Erika and let out a scream.
ER nurse Claire Gillette was at the rear of the class.
Why Claire Took the Class on a Whim
Claire, a 26-year-old ER nurse, would often stop at the yoga studio for some light stress-busting exercise on her way home from an overnight shift.
But on this particular morning, she’d decided to try something a bit more intense. She checked the studio schedule and saw one person had dropped out of the popular Friday morning Tabata yoga class, so she took the spot.
After hearing Claudia scream, Claire leapt to her feet and dashed to Erika. The woman’s lips were turning blue — her heart had stopped.
“Call 911!” Claire shouted. She began compressions and asked the yoga instructor if they had a portable defibrillator.
“No!” The instructor blurted. “Maybe one of the other shops…”
Minutes passed as the staff members searched for a defibrillator.
“An ambulance is on its way!” someone announced. Claire continued compressions — again and again and again.
Finally, Claire got what she needed. “The spin class down the street had one!” a staff member said, racing in and clutching a portable defibrillator.
“Everybody back!” Claire ordered, charging the machine and sending a jolt of current into Erika’s heart.
Claire tried a second shock.
“Please, come back!” she urged.
10 agonizing minutes passed, but finally, Erika’s heart began beating again. Just then, paramedics arrived. Erika was rushed to the hospital, where she came to in the ER.
A Happy Ending
“You were very lucky,” a nurse told Erika. “One of our emergency room nurses was [in your yoga class] — she saved you.”
“What’s her name? I have to meet her!” Erika insisted.
A nurse manager called Claire so Erika could meet her. Though Claire was exhausted and wasn’t scheduled to work until that night, she headed to the hospital.
“You know you didn’t just save me,” Erika told her through tears upon meeting her. “You saved my kids, and my husband too.”
What had gone wrong? Erika’s heart had stopped, but doctors found no blockage. Instead, she was the victim of a syndrome known as Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a temporary heart condition nearly always occurring in women and often brought on by severe emotional or physical stress.
Today, Erika is back to doing yoga, only now she doesn’t push herself so hard. She and Claire speak daily and get together often.
“Her breath is inside me,” a grateful Erika says. “She is my heartbeat.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
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