GAINESVILLE, Fla. — For 23 years, Greg Magruder has been a Florida Gators fan.
He and his wife, Karen, moved to Florida from Ohio in 2000. Magruder, a pastor at Parkview Baptist Church, went to his first Gators football game when a church member gave him a ticket.
“I have been a fan ever since,” Magruder said. “I can only think of maybe one or two seasons that I haven’t made it to the Swamp.”
If not for UF Health Emergency Medical Services, the University of Florida Athletic Association and Alachua County Fire Rescue, Sept. 23 could have been Magruder’s last game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Magruder and his family had tickets for the Gators game against Charlotte. After parking four blocks away, they started walking toward the stadium. Karen noticed her husband walking slower than usual. Every several minutes, he had to stop and catch his breath.
Their seats were near the top of the stadium. The Magruders had considered taking the elevator, but Magruder heard a Tom Petty song playing. He looked at his wife and said, “I can do this.”
Magruder struggled to walk up the spiraled ramp.
“I got tired and winded,” he said. “That’s pretty much the last I remember.”
His family briefly passed him on the ramp. Karen looked back and saw Magruder leaning on the wall. His head was resting on his arm. Then he fell.
“I ran to him,” Karen said. “His eyes looked like he was gone. So in my mind, I thought he had died. I was just screaming, ‘Someone call 911!’”
Magruder was not breathing and had no pulse. UF Health EMS and ACFR responded immediately.
“Greg was in cardiac arrest, meaning that his heart had stopped,” said Alison Leung, M.D., assistant medical director for Gators football games and a clinical assistant professor in the University of Florida Department of Emergency Medicine in the UF College of Medicine. “He was in a rhythm called ventricular fibrillation.”
During every football game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, ACFR’s Alyssa Hardin and Christopher Allenburg, both emergency medical technician-paramedics, are stationed at one of two major emergency response vehicles, or MERV. A MERV is a golf cart with a stretcher used to transport anyone having a medical emergency.
“A call came out, and we heard someone request us,” Hardin said. “We got there pretty quickly.”
They performed CPR on Magruder before UF Health EMS delivered one shock with an automated external defibrillator. The AED recovered Magruder’s pulse.
“As soon as you can shock someone out of that rhythm into a survivable heart rhythm, it can save their life,” said Jason Jones, M.D., medical director for ACFR and a clinical assistant professor in the University of Florida Department of Emergency Medicine in the UF College of Medicine. “That type of cardiac arrest is incredibly time sensitive.”
Hardin and Allenburg used the MERV to transport Magruder out of the stadium. He went to the UF Health Shands Emergency Room by ambulance.
Health workers there sedated Magruder and helped lower his body temperature to protect his brain. Three days later, Magruder regained consciousness in the UF Health intensive care unit. Care providers confirmed he fully retained his cognitive abilities.
“The ICU nurses and staff took excellent care of me. The doctors made regular visits,” Magruder said. “I cannot give this medical facility any higher praise.”
Magruder later received two stents in his coronary artery, where the blockage had occurred. A new pacemaker was inserted, along with a defibrillator. After 11 days in the hospital, Magruder was able to go home.
“The only way someone survives something like this is everyone did their best in a tough situation,” Jones said. “Every link in that chain of survival was strong.”
Safety is a priority at all Gators events, said Chip Howard, deputy athletic director at the University of Florida Athletic Association. For football games, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium has nine aid stations, two floating ACFR units and incident command posts, along with the two MERV units.
“I would describe our collaboration as special,” Howard said. “Eighty-eight thousand people come in on game day. It’s a huge undertaking, and it’s a responsibility we take very seriously.”
Magruder is still on the mend. He walks every day and says his strength is gradually returning.
Although he doesn’t remember much from his last Gators game experience, he makes sure to appreciate those who cared for him.
“I’m grateful for them all,” Magruder said. “They saved my life. I can’t thank them enough.”
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