HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - One week ago, Huntsville councilman Mark Russell stepped out onto the field at Madison Academy to officiate the football game against McCallie.
He never expected what came in the second quarter at the 20-yard line.
"He came out onto the field and he basically collapsed here," said Paulette Berryman, who was behind him at the time. She is a cardiac nurse at Huntsville Hospital, but on Friday nights you'll find her photographing the Madison Academy games. "I was still back there on the sideline and just recognized immediately what had happened," she noted.
Berryman was the first to reach him. She began to administer CPR as other help quickly followed.
"She was the first one to help me and she knew what to do. She took great action. So I'll be forever grateful for Paulette," said Russell in his first public interview since his hospitalization.
Russell is now recovering at home. He says it has been incredible to see the support from friends, family, even complete strangers since his collapse. Every day he says he hears new stories about someone who helped him.
"It's a surreal experience and I'm learning more each and every day. I'm so thankful to everyone who helped me and it really humbles me that complete strangers helped me so much and they really fought for my life," he said. "People have been coming by bringing healthy snacks for me. A lot of fruit has been delivered. I really appreciate it. But it's that outpouring of humankind that I really enjoy and I'm so thankful for all the people."
Russell is thankful to be able to sit at home and discuss the ordeal. But staying away from work is going to prove difficult!
"My doctor has advised me not to do any work this week. And obviously that's nearly impossible," he said with a smile.
Russell's care has been top-notch, and his family is grateful.
"At the game, and then the care that he got at Huntsville Hospital, the nurses and doctors, have just been incredible," said his wife, April.
Russell said his father passed away at a young age after suffering heart problems. He thought he was being careful. He learned something last week.
"I walk twice a day. I was in good shape I've refereed games. But it can happen to anybody so we all need to be cognizant of our health," he said.
Russell said he will now watch his diet even more closely, and his health too. When he can, he wants to return to the field to officiate. He said it's his way of giving back.
"There's nothing like a Friday Night football game in our community," he said.