By Betsy Dolan
It was the day after Valentine’s Day, and Erica Nigrelli’s heart was full. She was living her dream: teaching, coaching and just four weeks away from the birth of her first child with husband and fellow Elkins High School teacher, Nathan.
In an instant, it all changed.
“Some students said, ‘Your wife is hurt’ and I went running into the classroom and she was laying on the floor,” Nathan recalled. “She wasn’t breathing and I just froze.”
What happened next would later be called a miracle by Erica’s family. With two lives hanging in the balance, three women, also Elkin’s employees, converged in the classroom, each possessing a unique skill that would ultimately save mother and child.
Athletic trainer and Fort Bend ISD CPR educator, June Tomlin heard about Erica’s collapse and immediately raced to the classroom.
“I cut off her shirt just as she took her last breath and I immediately started chest compressions,” said Tomlin. “And I didn’t stop.”
School nurse Jennifer Longoria, who had worked in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and teacher Maxine Reeves arrived. 9-1-1 was called and Reeves prepared the electronic defibrillator.
“We shocked her three times and on that last time we finally got a faint pulse just as the paramedics got there,” Reeves said.
Meanwhile, Tomlin continued with the chest compressions and Longoria monitored Erica’s vital signs.
“EMS saw that we had a rhythm going and that it was working so they let us continue what we were doing . We didn’t even have to talk to each other,” said Longoria.
When Erica arrived at the hospital her condition was critical. Doctors made the decision to do an emergency Cesarean section to try and save the baby.
“The doctors told me that Erica delivered post-mortem because she did not have a heart beat when they took the baby out,” Nathan said. “But I married a fighter and now I had a baby girl who was a fighter too.”
Doctors determined that Erica had hypertropic cardiomyopathy, more commonly known as athlete’s heart. It is a genetic condition with no obvious symptoms that can suddenly kill otherwise healthy people without warning. Doctors were able to get Erica’s heart beating again but gave her just a five percent chance of making it through the night.
Nathan says that a mother’s love for her child gave Erica the strength to survive that first night. Doctor’s inserted a pacemaker near Erica’s collar bone which helped regulate her heartbeat. She spent two weeks in the ICU; Elena spent 76 days in the NICU recovering from her traumatic birth. The family has been at home together for three weeks and are grateful to their “angels”.
“These three women came together with these special skills and they were able to use something as simple as CPR to save my life and to save Elena’s life,” Erica said. “Miracles exist. I’m here and I get to raise Elena and I can’t ask for any more than that.”