Scott Aul has been a basketball referee for 27 years. His everlasting passion for that hobby may have saved his life.
While officiating a girls game between Naples and Golden Gate during the Thanksgiving weekend Bokampers Turkey Shoot, Aul, 54, suffered a cardiac arrest. He didn’t really see it coming. Aul felt a bit dizzy and went down without warning after an inbound play.
“I honestly think if I had been at home or in my car, I wouldn’t be here speaking to you today,” Aul said. “The folks at Barron Collier responded so quickly. I know that’s what saved my life.”
Aul says he doesn’t recall much, since he lost consciousness almost immediately.
“I felt dizzy and I went down,” he said. “I remember seeing a white light, and the next thing I remember is seeing the lights of the gym and being held down. I was kind of freaking out about it.
“I asked what happened and I was told that I had basically died. It was probably more scary for everyone else there than it was for me, since I really don’t remember much. I didn’t have any symptoms other than being dizzy right before it happened.”
After Aul collapsed, the staff at Barron Collier and some fans in the crowd with medical background sprung to action. Barron Collier trainer Kristina Chau activated the automated external defibrillator when it was apparent Aul wasn’t breathing and didn’t have a pulse.
While the trainers and medical personnel attended to Aul, a hush fell over the crowd.
“We had just inbounded the ball, so I turned toward the other side of the floor, to where the action was,” Golden Gate coach Keri Looker said. “All of the sudden, the buzzer blows after we had just inbounded and we saw him face down with no movement, no nothing. Luckily, so many people sprung into action quickly. In a way, it was probably a blessing. If he had been in a place where there was no AED, he might not have made it.”
Fellow referee Tim Philbrick, who was scheduled to officiate the next game in the tournament, had just arrived to witness his colleague collapse on the floor.
“It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen on a basketball court,” Philbrick said. “They had to cut his shirt open and everything. Once they got the AED out and zapped him the first time, he started to breathe again, which was a big relief to everyone.”
Looker said those moments of uncertainty were excruciating for everyone involved.
“As a coach, you’re trying to keep your composure,” she said. “But a couple of our girls were crying. I kept saying to myself ‘Please breathe, please breathe.’ They had been doing chest compressions before they activated the AED and we weren’t seeing any movement. But once they jolted him, there was movement. He started breathing. He even gave us a thumbs up before leaving (on the stretcher).”
Looker said seeing Aul was breathing again made it a bit easier on everyone once the game resumed.
“The result wasn’t as drastic as it could have been,” she said. “Everybody was able to catch their composure. I give so much credit to everyone on hand who handled the situation. They obviously had a checklist of things you do in those situations. At every school, people have that kind of training. But to see them enact it so calmly and effectively was great to see. Nobody froze. Nobody panicked.”
Philbrick filled Aul’s spot for the rest of the game, which ended up being a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire, one-point Golden Gate win.
“Once we got back out there, after about two or three minutes, things got back to normal a little bit,” Philbrick said. “It kind of took the focus off a bad event. For me and my partners, it was a welcome break. And it helped that it was a phenomenal game. A very spirited and contested game. It really didn’t hit all of us until after the final horn sounded of what actually happened. That’s when it sunk in.”
It’s been a rough year health-wise overall for Aul, a native of Indiana who moved to Bonita Springs five years ago to spend time with his father. Aul suffered a heart attack in February, and then a stroke in October.
Five years ago, he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat that causes poor blood flow to the body. The condition carries a risk of stroke, and he was also told he had a risk of heart failure in the future.
After his cardiac arrest at Barron Collier and being rushed to Physicians Regional Medical Center, Aul underwent a variety of tests, and doctors determined he needed an internal defibrillator, a type of pacemaker that can give his heart a jolt if it ever stopped again.
“The thing works. They tried it on me while I was awake, not a real pleasant experience,” the jovial Aul joked. “But God must still have things for me to do on Earth, or else I wouldn’t still be here. I will say, I won’t count 2017 as a bucket list year. Things can only get better from here.”
Aul said he’s been cleared to begin officiating again, and will start out at the middle school level with the St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic at Saint Ann’s boys and girls contest Tuesday. He’ll also be officiating the Donahue Catholic at Palmetto Ridge girls varsity game Thursday at 6 p.m.
“I love being around the game and the kids, but it’s also another way to stay in shape,” he said. “I miss it.”
Aul says he’s extremely thankful for the quick-acting staff at Barron Collier and for the doctors and EMTs who have taken care of him along the way.
“All these people have been a blessing in my life,” he said. “I’m so thankful for everyone that played a part in keeping me alive.”