Sam Sangetta never realized that he had a flair for the dramatic, but when he suffered Sudden Cardiac Arrest on January 31, 2003, he did so before a near sellout crowd.
While fans waited for the start of the second half of a high school basketball game, referee Sam came out onto the floor and was waiting for the teams to emerge from their locker rooms when, according to several eyewitness accounts, he hit the floor hard.
"People told me my knees never buckled," said Sam who, like most SCA victims remembers nothing about the event, "I just went straight back."
The fall resulted in eight staples to close the gash in his head, but the more immediate problem was to restore his breathing and heartbeat. Fortunately, two emergency department nurses were in the crowd and they started administering CPR while other fans ran to find a local cardiologist whom they knew was also in attendance.
"They diagnosed me with no breathing and no pulse," Sam said.
Not long before the incident, that same cardiologist had convinced the school to get an AED. After the school's athletic director brought the device to the court, Sam's heart was shocked back into a nice steady rhythm and he was on his way to the hospital.
The diagnosis was sclerosis in one artery, the one that controls the heart’s electrical impulse. After angioplasty and the placement of a stent, Sam was sent home with orders to sit out the rest of the basketball season and accept the probability that his refereeing career was over.
"That pissed me off," Sam remembers.
But after a bout of cardiac rehabilitation and some healthy lifestyle choices, the doctor pronounced Sam, who is now entering his 33rd season as both a high school football and basketball official, fit enough to put on the zebra shirt and resume the avocation he loves.
As for the rest of his life, including his second career as an Information Technology project manager for Sprint after spending 33 years in the printing trade, Sam reports everything is status quo.
"It hasn't changed me at all," Sam said. "If people hadn't told me it happened to me, I would have believed it happened to someone else."
But, as Sam knows well, it is hard to mistake the real SCA sufferer when the event happens in the presence of so many eyewitnesses.
- A.J. Caliendo