Friends for Life

CSUCI Nursing Alumna Saves Life of a Thousand Oaks Mom in Yoga Class

Article by Kim Lamb Gregory

Photography by Whitney Howard, CSUCI Staff Photographer

Originally published in Conejo Valley Lifestyle

After a 12-hour shift in the emergency room of Los Robles Regional Medical Center, nurse Claire Gillette couldn’t decide whether to go home and collapse into bed or take a hot yoga class first.

“I work night shift and I never take that class after a shift because I’m tired, and it’s hot yoga with weights,” Gillette said. “But there was a spot open in the class and I thought, ‘I’m feeling into the weights.’”

Had Gillette not stepped into that yoga class on October 8, 2021, the husband and two young sons of Thousand Oaks wife and mother Erika Cole would have faced Mother’s Day without her.

 “Claire is the only reason I’m alive today,” said Cole, who turns 45 on May 8—which this year falls on Mother’s Day.

The instructor was leading the class in the last few yoga moves when Gillette, who was in the back, heard a commotion at the front of the class. Class members were gathering around a woman curled up on her mat, her face blue.

“Is she okay?” someone asked, followed by a friend’s panicked, “Erika!”

Gillette rushed to the front of the room, knelt and searched for the woman’s pulse. There was none.

“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 recalled.

Gillette began pumping Cole’s chest, doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Twice, Cole’s heart rhythm flatlined and twice, Gillette had to shock her with the AED (Automatic External Defibrillator).

“I was getting tired and somebody said, ‘She’s got two kids!’ and I thought ‘I’m going to save her if it kills me,’” Gillette said.

Gillette was exhausted, but she kept going, as the minutes ticked by. Finally, an emergency crew arrived whom Gillette was well acquainted with as an ER nurse.

“What’s nice about working in Ventura County and Thousand Oaks is the medics and the firefighters who come in, I know them all, and I was so relieved to see them,” Gillette said. 

Gillette stayed to answer questions for the rest of the shocked yoga class while Cole was wheeled out and rushed to Los Robles.

“Everybody else was traumatized and everyone had questions, so I stayed for a long time to debrief the class and the instructor,” Gillette said. “Then I told them ‘I have to work again tonight,’ so I left and napped for about an hour and went into work.”

When Gillette arrived, a coworker greeted her with: “Your patient is ROSC (return of spontaneous circulation). Your ROSC is awake and wants to meet you.”

Gillette found Cole’s recovery room and was greeted with a groggy, but alert Cole.

“When she walked in, she 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.”

Gillette has become a part of Cole’s family, which includes her two sons, Tyler, 15, and Caleb, 11, and her husband of nearly 17 years, Trevor.

Gillette is a regular at the Cole dinner table and Gillette and Cole include each other in social gatherings.

“We live close to each other. It was like, effortless,” Cole said. “The first time she came over, she was a part of this family. It feels like I have always had Claire in my life.”

Gillette grew up in Camarillo, in the middle of five children. She learned about the impact of nursing when she was 17 and her 14-year-old sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor and hydrocephalus.

“She had to have emergency surgery and we learned, sure enough, it was cancer,” Gillette said. “She is okay now, and the treatment worked. But through all that you meet all of the nurses and surgeons, and the nurses, to me, made the biggest difference and every single one of them seemed to be the happiest with their job.”

After Gillette graduated from Camarillo High School, she enrolled in CSUCI’s Nursing program and knew she was where she belonged. So did her instructors.

“I vividly remember Claire during her journey as a student nurse,” said CSUCI faculty member Mila Tabije-Ebuen, DNP, MSN, RN. “She was hardworking, diligent, loves to learn, and tenacious. She knew what she wanted to become, and I still remember that day she asked for my thoughts and assistance to become an ER nurse. I saw myself in her and I made sure the opportunity was given to her.”

After Gillette earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) in 2018, she went to work in the emergency room at Los Robles Hospital, where Tabije-Ebuen helped her get a clinical internship.

After she was hired, the nursing staff at Los Robles also saw Gillette was in the right place.

“We love having Claire on our team and to see her growth as an RN,” said Los Robles Director of Emergency Services Erica Rosa, MSN, RN. “She is so hardworking and a great team player. She loves the Emergency Department and goes out of her way to help her patients.”

Gillette says the emergency room is an energizing place to work that requires you to use a broad set of skills.

“You don’t realize how valuable your nursing education is until you’re actually nursing,” Gillette said. “The knowledge base is so broad. You learn it in class, but once you’re actually doing it in a clinical setting, the nursing knowledge you have is just there, and it comes out so naturally.”

Even in yoga class on a moment’s notice.

“In that yoga room I always think, ‘I’m not a nurse in here. I can turn my brain off,’” Gillette said. “But in that moment, I realized, ‘Nope! I’m always a nurse.’”

Cole 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.

“I think, in hindsight, I was really exhausted,” Cole said. “I remember being really run down.”

Cole and Gillette want to tell their story to encourage everyone to learn CPR, as “anyone can learn to do what I did,” Gillette said.

Because Cole’s heart didn’t stop when she was driving, or home alone, and because Gillette decided at the last minute to attend a class she didn’t normally attend, both women believe there was real cosmic grace in that moment.

One of their touchstones is the number 8, as the crisis occurred on Oct. 8, Cole’s birthday is May 8, and 8 is the symbol for infinity.

So, on 12-11-21, two days before Gillette’s 27th birthday, the two new friends-for-life got matching infinity tattoos on their arms.

“I live for and love my boys,” Cole said of her two sons, “Claire is the reason I have air in my lungs and a beat in my heart. I can’t possibly express what she means to me, but the easiest thing to let everyone know is that Claire and I are truly my favorite love story.”

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