Mike Mann (center) reconnected with Kevin Hill (left) and Ron Fien (right) at Thursday's meeting of Grants Pass officials.
Mike Mann (center) reconnected with Kevin Hill (left) and Ron Fien (right) at Thursday's meeting of Grants Pass officials.

The details from the night of Dec. 7 remain foggy for Mike Mann.

It started out as just another basketball game for the 73-year-old Mann, an official for four decades. But early in the third quarter of a JV2 girls game at Grants Pass, his head began to spin.

“All of the sudden I got really dizzy,” Mann said. “All I remember is looking up at the rim, and then, pfft, I'm out.”

Mann went into cardiac arrest. And had it not been for the quick response of two other officials – one a retired Coast Guard rescue swimmer and EMT, the other trained on a defibrillator – he likely would not have survived.

“The ER doc said, 'You should not be alive,'” Mann said. “He said, 'If you wouldn't have been in that exact place, in that exact moment, with those exact people there, you would have never made it.'”

Shortly after falling, Mann regained consciousness and sat in a chair at the end of the court as the game continued with two officials. Kevin Hill, an official who was waiting to work the varsity game, helped tend to Mann before leaving for the locker room to change into his uniform.

“Mike wasn't talking about any chest pains or anything,” Hill said.

Mann sat for about 10 minutes, but after trying to walk, he collapsed again. This time, though, he stayed down. He wasn't breathing and had no pulse.

School officials called the game and cleared the gym. Ron Fien, a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer and trained EMT who was officiating the game with Mann, began to perform CPR. Hill returned to the gym and administered the school's automated external defibrillator, something he learned to use from working at Pacific Power and Light.

“He was in full cardiac arrest,” Hill said. “By the time I got there, his eyes were frozen, mouth wide open, and he's gone. Ron had probably already given him 60, 80 chest compressions.”

Hill had been trained on the AED, but never had used it on a person.

“I hit the shock button, and it slammed him pretty hard,” Hill said. “His body came up off the ground. It said, 'Start chest compressions again.' So Ron got another 40 or so, and all of a sudden, color started coming back to Mike, and he took a breath. He was starting to look around and wanting to know what the hell happened.”

Medical personnel arrived 11 minutes after Mann had collapsed the second time.

“I talked to the battalion chief from the fire department, and he said that they were shocked when they walked in the door and I was responding to questions that were being asked,” Mann said. “He said, 'You just don't see that.' He said, 'That's usually less than 10 percent of the calls they go on.'”

Emotions swept over Hill as Mann – who helped train him when he began officiating 24 years ago – regained consciousness.

“I got over the top of him, and I looked down at him, and I said, 'Hey, Mike, you're here, buddy. Your wife is going to be so happy to see you,'” Hill said. “He just looked at me and he goes, 'Is that you, Kevin?' I had tears in my eyes. It was really cool.”

Shortly after the incident, Hill traded texts with Mann.

“He said, 'I don't know how to pay you and Ron back for this,'” Hill said. “I texted him back, 'You paid us back by coming back.' I just was thinking that he was hopefully going to be around for Christmas with his family.”

Fien and Hill were among eight people recognized by the Grants Pass School District and Grants Pass Fire Rescue for coming to Mann's aid.

“Thanks to Ron and Kevin, they basically saved my life,” Mann said. “They both made the comment, 'God had me there for a reason.'”

Mann was treated at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass before being transferred to Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford. Mann, who had a pace-maker inserted in June, underwent surgery for a pace-maker and defibrillator.

He has been resting at home since his 10-day hospital stay, marking his 49th wedding anniversary with wife Linda on Dec. 30. He is due for a check-up in two weeks.

“I'm hoping they'll let me start going back to the gym and doing a little working out, doing some walking and stuff,” he said.

Mann said he hasn't decided if he will officiate again.

“My wife said, 'You're done,'” Mann said. “But she said, 'If you want to do it, that's OK.' I don't know. Right now it's so much physical as it is mental, to know that I came that close to dying.

“I've always wanted to go on my own terms, as far as when I quit officiating. Well, that's kind of in some ways been taken away. I think what I'm going to do is try to work with younger officials, and just give up active calling. I might change my mind by next year. Who knows?”

Mann graduated from Illinois Valley, where the court is named after his late father, Ken Mann, a longtime booster. Mike spent three decades working for the U.S. Forest Service, mostly as a wildland firefighter. He got into officiating in the 1980s and worked two 3A boys state tournaments at McArthur Court.

“I just enjoy doing it,” he said. “I enjoy being on the floor. I enjoy making snap decisions. And most of the time, I'm right. Not always.”

He attended an officials meeting Thursday night for the first time since his ordeal and reconnected with Hill and Fien.

“It was emotional," Mann said. "I had seen Ron, but it was the first time I'd seen Kevin since that night. I just told them, 'I hope you're the hugging type, because every time I see you, you guys are getting a hug.'"