Mark Owings stopped breathing.
His skin was turning a pale gray, and he was slumped over the wheel of his car in the Greater Little Rock Rugby Club's parking lot. It was Oct. 5, just a few minutes after the Springfield, Mo., league's match against the Little Rock Stormers.
"I walked up to the driver's-side window and looked in, and I knew something was wrong," said Shelly Smith, Owings' girlfriend. "I just started screaming."
Zack Tisdale was icing his knee after the match when he heard Smith shrieking. He pulled Owings, a 6-foot-3-inch man who's been playing rugby for nearly 30 years, out of the car and onto the dirt.
Tisdale learned how to do CPR when he was a lifeguard in high school, but he'd never done it on a living person -- certainly not a man in the middle of a heart attack.
Brett Bibel, who was manning the grill for an after-game meal, ran to get the club's automated external defibrillator. Bibel, who has been in the Air Force for eight years, takes a class once a year to renew his certification on the defibrillator. He'd taken the course two days before the match.
"It was less than a minute that we had him breathing again," Tisdale said. "But he didn't really wake up until the next day."
On Saturday, Owings was back in the rugby club's main pavilion smiling and shaking hands with the men who saved his life.
Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services director Jon Swanson on Saturday gathered the friends, firefighters, deputies and paramedics who resuscitated Owings to present them with the Phoenix Award. The MEMS Phoenix Award is dedicated to first responders and bystanders who save someone's life.
"We want to celebrate that Mark is back here today and extend our appreciation for the entire team that made this possible," Swanson said. "What is really special and what really made a difference is the work you did here."
Among the honorees were Bibel, Tisdale and rugby player David Caswell; Sgt. Jeff Scott and deputies Elza Kirkwood and Morgan Clark with the Pulaski County sheriff's office; Fire Chief Cody Church and Capt. Nick Medlock of the Quail Creek Volunteer Fire Department; Assistant Chief Brad Vick, and firefighters Lewis Dixon and Dillon Payne of the Arch Street Volunteer Fire Department; and MEMS responders Jennifer Casados and Hunter Stanton.
About 40 people -- rugby players, Owings' friends, Quail Creek and Arch Street firefighters, Pulaski County sheriff's deputies and MEMS responders -- huddled near a fire in the pavilion while a German shepherd named Jenny and a mastiff named Goose played on the nearby pitches. The crowd clapped each time Swanson read off a name of the honorees.
Although the primary purpose of the award is to recognize the people who saved a life, Swanson said it should also remind people how important it can be to learn CPR and how to use some emergency equipment. After the ceremony, MEMS instructors conducted a free class on some first-aid techniques.
Swanson said MEMS provides those classes free to groups that request the training. Information about the classes can be obtained by calling (501) 301-1404.
"It's not enough that we want to get someone to the hospital," Swanson said. "We want them to leave the hospital, too. It's not a success for us unless they go home again."
Owings' case, club members said, was the perfect example of how preparation and quick response can save a life.
On the night before the match, Greater Little Rock Rugby Chairman Wilma Keller -- who joined the club in 1976, two years after its creation -- noticed the low-battery light blinking on the defibrillator and decided to plug it in. Owings said when he saw the defibrillator that Saturday, he turned to a friend and said, "Hopefully we won't need that."
"If anything had been different, if we waited even seconds, we could have lost him," Smith said Saturday.
The day after Owings' heart attack, Tisdale went to visit him.
"The craziest part was I had an hourlong conversation with him in the hospital that Sunday," Tisdale said. "You never would have known."
Metro on 11/17/2019