MADISON, Ala. - One woman just may have been in the right place at the right time to help a public official in his time of crisis last week.
Councilman Russell collapsed from a heart attack while officiating a Madison Academy game on Friday. He is at home recovering from his heart attack this week, thanks to a woman he credits with helping give him a second chance on this earth: Paulette Berryman.
You'll find Berryman also on the sidelines during Madison Academy football games. She says with a smile, "I appointed myself the school football photographer."
She posts pictures of every game onto her Facebook page for the students, players, and families to enjoy. It's something she loves to do.
"Everybody wants to see their child on the field, and it's important to them," she said.
Both Berryman's children have graduated from Madison Academy, and her husband is an assistant coach. Madison Academy remains a special place to her.
Before Friday's game, she did what she usually does in documenting the moments before, after, and during the game. That's when she captured this image of councilman Mark Russell walking toward the field:
Alongside the players, Mark Russell donned his usual uniform and prepared to officiate the game.
As the game began, Berryman stood on the sideline as usual. She remembers reconnecting with Russell later at the twenty-yard line, when he came to stand next to her.
"The ball snapped and Mr. Russell blew the whistle. He was going to run onto the field. He got about three feet onto the field and collapsed," she said.
Berryman suddenly shifted from an observer to an MVP and ran toward Russell.
She is also a cardiac nurse, exactly the kind of person Russell needed in that moment. She recognized the signs of a heart attack: "I knew in my mind that he had not fallen and had not tripped. Because most people push out to protect themselves. And he did not. He just kind of crumbled," she noted. "I did a quick assessment of his breathing and pulse status and found there was none."
Berryman said she was not afraid. Instead, she used the training she has gone through, and taught others, over the course of her more than 30-year career.
The game may have paused, but seconds still counted on the field where Russell lay.
"Early defibrillation saves people's lives. Early CPR saves their brain," Berryman noted. "The first few minutes are very crucial."
In just moments, many others joined Berryman in surrounding Russell. There were many medical professionals either working at the game, or watching it, who came to assist. EMT's were able to take Russell to Huntsville Hospital for further treatment.
Days later, the rescued councilman would note online that he believes God put Berryman at his side.
"I would agree with him 100%," said Berryman. "This was all God. Because not only did our principal pray for Mr. Russell 2 times during his prayer before the game, the senior moms who always meet in the end zone prayed for the referees. They prayed for them in general."
She said more prayers were lifted up from the teams and the stands as Russell was receiving medical attention.
Berryman met with Mark Russell at the hospital after he was feeling better. She said it was unnecessary to be thanked for doing "what any other health professional would do," but she appreciated his gratitude.
She remains humble, but Berryman's are two of the hands that helped save Mark Russell's life.
"I was just reacting to years of training. It's just what we do," she said simply. "What I did, millions of health care workers do every day. Any one of them, put in the same position, would have reacted the same way."
Berryman said Russell is a kind person and she hopes he recovers well.
She added, "I hope he is able to do everything he wants to do and I think with the care that he got and the quick action of multiple people, that will happen."
"Maybe he has been given a second chance. And I think, though my interaction with him, that he will take full advantage of that," she noted.
We expect to hear from Russell Friday about how he is doing, but he posted this earlier this week: