by Frank DiRenna for The Columbus Dispatch

Richard Roll returned to Columbus Academy to thank the people who gave him a second chance at life.

Roll was officiating a seventh-grade girls basketball game between Academy and Bexley on Jan. 12 when he went into cardiac arrest. Personnel from Academy, along with parents in attendance, immediately went into action to help save the 65-year-old Gahanna resident.

They were together again in the gymnasium Thursday, giving Roll, his wife Barbara and son Robert a chance to express their appreciation.

“This is unbelievable,” Roll said of the turnout. “It’s something that you never think is going to happen to you. I’ve officiated basketball for 35 years. I’ve never been in a gym where someone had a heart attack. I’ve never seen someone get CPR before.”

Ralen Cleveland, a safety and security coordinator at Academy, quickly began administering compressions to Roll’s chest while members of the athletic training staff hurried to retrieve the school’s automated external defibrillator, a device that helps reestablish an effective heart rhythm.

“I was on duty and we have a presence at every event that goes on here,” Cleveland said. “Fortunately, I was able to see the incident from beginning to end and I saw Mr. Roll fall on the ground and went over to assist in starting CPR. It was definitely a group effort. We have professionals here who are hired for this reason.”

Paramedics Chris Searle and Chris Lundak from the Mifflin Township Division of Fire arrived to continue life-saving efforts before transporting Roll to Mount Carmel East.

“As soon as we got into the gym and got to him and checked his pulse, he opened his eyes and was talking to us,” Searle said. “He knew what day it was. He knew who he was. He remembered what he was doing. On the way to the hospital, he was acting completely normal. We were having a conversation the entire way to the hospital. That’s not normal. We’ve never had a run like that before.”

Physicians Ritu Bakhru and Sara Parker came out of the stands and assisted in the medical care. Their daughters were playing on the Academy and Bexley teams, respectively.

“It happened so quickly,” Bakhru said. “The athletic trainers were quickly assessing the patient and they knew that they had to start CPR immediately. It took a whole team to save him. Everybody did their part and they knew what to do, so that’s what made it so successful.”

The remainder of the seventh-grade game was canceled, along with the eighth-grade game that was scheduled to follow.

Roll was determined to have 100% blockage in an artery to his heart and underwent single-bypass surgery Jan. 16. He has to undergo three months of cardiac rehab at Mount Carmel East, but has been told he'll make a full recovery.

Roll said he had no medical issues and had received a clean bill of health during his annual physical Nov. 30.

“I thought I was a pretty healthy guy,” he said. “I remember waking up and talking to the (medics). I knew what my name, what the date was, who was president. I didn’t feel that bad in the ambulance. I didn’t feel like I had a heart attack.”

Roll, who retired in December 2021 after 41 years as a banker at First Financial Bank, is unsure if he will return to officiating basketball. An avid golfer, he hopes to resume playing by June.

Members of the Academy team attended the ceremony to meet Roll and offer well-wishes.

“Our main message is that schools and organizations should have AEDs readily available throughout their facilities with people who are trained on how to use them properly,” said Bob Lee, director of communications and marketing at Academy. “The paramedics arriving on the scene were amazed by how well everything had already been handled by our staff and bystanders. They credit our quick treatment for saving his life.”

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