Two weeks ago on an athletic field at Salpointe Catholic High School soccer referee Michael Chaison collapsed and died.

Before stunned onlookers, Chaison lay on the field in sudden cardiac arrest. Players from both teams gathered and knelt on the field and prayed the “Our Father”as a group of Salpointe athletic personnel and an off-duty fire captain raced to bring him back to life.

It was, fire officials say, their decisive actions in calling for help and beginning chest-compression-only CPR on Chaison that helped save him.

On Wednesday, Chaison gathered with his rescuers for the first time since that night, Jan 28. The veteran referee emotionally showed his gratitude to three Salpointe staff members and a Tucson Fire Department captain for saving him.

“You really can’t thank somebody for this,” said Chaison, 56, holding back tears as his family, school staff members and Tucson Fire personnel looked on at a ceremony at Salpointe. He said their actions gave him a second chance for life to share with Linda, his wife of 35 years, and their two children, a granddaughter and another grandchild expected soon.

Chaison stood near his rescuers: Kyle Bowen, a certified athletic trainer; Phil Gruensfelder, athletic director; Keith Shinaberry, assistant athletic director; and Tucson Fire Capt. Michael Coyle.

Looking back at the night he was refereeing a game between Salpointe and Sabino high schools, it’s easy to see why he is thankful.

Chaison’s heart stopped beating and within minutes he was administered CPR and given an electrical shock from an automated external defibrillator, while the emergency was reported to 911.

Paramedics arrived at the school, 1545 E. Copper St., in less than five minutes and took over his treatment, administering medication and transporting Chaison to University of Arizona Medical Center within 15 minutes of his collapse.

Chaison, who has a family history of heart disease, just remembered feeling good that night, being on the field and ready for the match.

The next thing he remembered was waking up in the emergency room, where he underwent exams.

One exam showed that he had suffered an earlier heart attack and he did not know it. It could have happened in his sleep, doctors told him.

Chaison had stents inserted and underwent a balloon angioplasty to clear one artery, and doctors also inserted an internal cardiac defibrillator under the skin on his upper left side with a wire leading to a ventricle of the heart. He was released days later, and will undergo cardiotherapy in two weeks.

Salpointe athletic officials have first-aid training and the automated external defibrillator is kept on the sidelines at games for emergencies.

Chaison laughed with Coyle, who was at the game to cheer on the Sabino team, because the two spoke about the CPR Chaison received, which fractured several of his ribs. “Every time I sneeze, my chest hurts,” he said.

Linda Chaison said this last medical emergency is enough for the family.

“It comes in threes,” she quipped, explaining that for the last 2½ years she has dealt with breast cancer and leukemia and now is in remission.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at or 573-4104.