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Bystanders and community members save life of long-time referee

A long-time referee in Pocatello will live to see another game thanks to the help of many good Samaritans who jumped in to save his life.

“I feel okay about being here today. It’s probably a miracle that I am.”

That’s what long-time Pocatello referee Brian Underwood had to say about being alive and on the mend.

“I would just say this is a unique situation as far as Mr. Underwood goes,” said Dr. David Gonzalez, director of cardiology at Portneuf Medical Center. “He is basically a sudden death survivor and the percentage of folks that survive this is very low.”

But 77-year-old Underwood beat the odds.

Underwood was reffing a freshmen girls basketball game at Highland High School on Jan. 10 when he suddenly had a heart attack, collapsed and became unresponsive with no pulse.

“I was feeling fine,” Underwood said of his health before the game. “Just kind of happened – all of a sudden. I was running down the basketball court and just all of a sudden fell. I think I fell on my elbows actually.”

Keith Forkin, head athletic trainer at Highland High School, was one of the first to help Underwood.

“The first thing that crossed my mind when I saw him collapse is that we needed the AED,” Forkin described. “I had my student there and she went and got it. And the shock was administered in about 1:45 from the incident, which is incredible response time. Usually it’s nowhere near that.”

But Forkin wasn’t the only one who jumped in to help. An off-duty firefighter & EMT, Jake Liday, had been watching the game and jumped in to give Underwood CPR.

“We got through a round of CPR and the AED reassessed everything and it found that his heart rate had come back so we had actually resuscitated him there in the basketball gym.”

“I was really just glad to help,” Liday said. “I like to think that I did the same thing most people would have done if presented with the same situation. I was very relieved Highland High School had an AED that was accessible. The shock that it delivered got Mr. Underwood’s heart back into a efficient rhythm. The firefighters and paramedics from the PFD had a very efficient response, which helped the outcome as well. I certainly hope Mr. Underwood continues to improve, and again we wish him the best.”

“The important part of all this is that you’re seeing more folks like him because of the fact that more and more people are trained to do CPR,” Gonzalez said. “Also, AEDs are now more and more available, or maybe at this point, ubiquitous at all sporting events. The AED itself is ultimately what saved his life and the fact the head trainer knew how to apply that.”

The particular AED used was purchased and donated by Portneuf Auxiliary. Gonzalez said three or four years ago, AED devices became available at all sporting venues in Pocatello, thanks in large part to the auxiliary.

Underwood is now making a great recovery. He said he still has some chest pains and sore ribs from the CPR, but nothing was broken.

He is hopeful he will get to go home this week. But when asked if he’ll resume his 30+ years on the court, he said he’ll probably just go watch the games now.

“I do not think so,” Underwood said. “I’m old enough now, it’s time to hang up the shirt.”

But the doctor said he expects a clean bill of health and hopes Underwood may change his mind.

“I fully expect that he will recover 100%,” Gonzalez said. “He talked about not refereeing again but it is my hope that he will actually get to return to refereeing maybe a year from now.”

“Everyone that was involved did their jobs and now we have an outcome that is something to be proud of.”

“I just had a small part but I’m glad I could be a part of it,” Forkin said. “I’m just glad everyone else did their part and we had a good outcome.”

The family said there are many, many more people who helped in the process, including the student who got the AED, the ER doctors and staff who treated Underwood, the ICU nurse Colleen Perkins, his rehab medical staff, and many more. The family, and Underwood, said they are so grateful to each and every person who helped give them a happy ending.

After Underwood collapsed on Jan. 10, the game was cancelled. Highland had been playing Hillcrest. Both teams have sent flowers to the hospital, wishing Underwood well.

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