Defibrillator use saves area referee

Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 5, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

Ron Siders has a portable heart machine and some calm emergency actions to thank for his life after he collapsed while refereeing a Santa Fe High School basketball game Thursday night.

People at the game at Santa Fe High School used a defibrillator to revive him after a heart attack.

Siders was doing well Friday and is set for heart bypass surgery Monday, said his wife, Claudia Siders, a Rawlings Elementary School teacher.

"They had an overtime game and he collapsed with 36 seconds left. It was a free throw and he had the ball, and he remembers seeing stars and feeling light-headed," said Claudia Siders, who was not at the game. "The defibrillator saved his life. If it hadn't have gone into overtime it might have happened on his way home, and that would have been a total disaster."

Alachua County was one of the first school districts in the state to have automated external defibrillators in all schools, according to spokeswoman Jackie Johnson. Defibrillators provide electrical currents to failing hearts.

The defibrillators were bought through an initiative of the district, the American Heart Association and local businesses that was launched following the near death in 2004 of a Gainesville High School student who collapsed during band practice.

Siders, a professor of applied physiology at the University of Florida, was the referee of a Santa Fe girls basketball game when he collapsed. Several people quickly helped him, using the defibrillator to restart his heart.

Among the helpers listed by Johnson were fellow referee Robert Mazalewski, former SFHS student and current nursing student Lindsay Jamison, SFHS tennis coach Adam Boukari and University of Florida athletic trainer Carrie Harpring.

The incident happened when the game was in a four-minute overtime period. The crowd was not large, but was emotionally into the game because it had been close throughout, Boukari said.

"When this occurred you could just tell that everybody in the gym understood the severity of the situation," Boukari said. "Everybody kind of gathered around but at a very safe distance. There were a lot of calm people who knew the procedures that needed to be taken."

SFHS Athletic Director Michelle Faulk said the defibrillator is kept in a box in the gym.

Faulk said a number of school staffers are trained to use the machine, as is Harpring, who is contracted from UF as the SFHS athletic trainer.

Boukari said he was standing against the wall near the court's baseline when Siders collapsed. Boukari said he knew the defibrillator was nearby and ran to get it while the others performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Siders.

"Once he was shocked, a few seconds later, you could see his chest move. Then he started taking deep, gasping breaths. He was brought back, so to speak," Boukari said. "The ambulance arrived and they began to regulate his breathing. On his way out, I could tell that he was talking and had gained consciousness."

The game was not resumed, with SFHS ahead of Ridgeview High School in Orange Park by four points, Faulk said.

This was the first time a defibrillator was used since the schools got them last year, Johnson said.

"We provided training sessions at each school and it is a requirement that there be staff people at each school trained to use it," Johnson said.

Claudia Siders said her husband has refereed high school football and basketball games in the county for about 30 years. She said he had no previous indication of heart disease. "This is just really amazing. The doctor told him his heart is a good, strong muscle, but that this was his wake-up call," she said. "The response from people has just been heart-warming."

Cindy Swirko can be reached at 374-5024 or

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