Having a heart attack and living to tell about it – Council Member Mark Russell

single-meta-cal September 1, 2017

Less than a week after crumbling to the turf while officiating a high school football game, Huntsville City Council Member Mark Russell is resting – and more than a little restless – at home, eager to return to work. 

“I fully expect to be back to normal next week,” Russell said. 

Russell, 54, is a long-time high school sports official and was at his position as line judge in the second quarter of Madison Academy’s game with The McCallie School from Chattanooga. He suffered a heart attack and fell unconscious. 

It was a surreal experience. I’m learning more and more every day (about what happened).”

Paulette Berryman, a cardiac care nurse, is Madison Academy’s football photographer; her husband Mark is a Mustangs assistant and their children previously attended the school. She was near Russell when he went down and immediately leaped into action. 

As Russell said in a tweet, “God put Paulette next to me at the game.” 

Medical personnel from both teams as well as HEMSI quickly joined Berryman and a defibrillator was applied. 

It was a surreal experience,” Russell said. “I’m learning more and more every day (about what happened). I’m so thankful for all the people who helped me, complete strangers who helped me and fought for my life. I’ll be forever grateful to Paulette.” 

Russell was whisked to Huntsville Hospital, where surgeons inserted a stent. Within less than three hours, “I felt fine. I was ready to go home then,” he said. 

He praised “the great care at Huntsville Hospital. They really do have a wonderful ER and trauma center. I got to see it first-hand. I’m glad we have a community hospital like this in our town.” 

Russell then laughed, “I would like to not experience it first-hand again.” 

He has been diligent in his exercise, walking twice a day and assuring he was in shape for football season. But his father passed away at an early age from a heart attack, so doctors suspect there could be some hereditary heart disease. 

To fight that, Russell and his wife April, who was visiting the couple’s daughter in Washington, D.C., when the incident happened, have met with nutritionists. Said April, “I am in charge. We’ve been working on (a new diet).” 

“Thanks for bringing that up,” the council member joked to an interviewer. 


His physicians have “told me to take it easy, and I’m not a take-it-easy person,” he said. 

Russell, who officiated a state championship game last year, said he hopes to return to the field this year, though it might have to be in a different capacity. And he’s eager to return to the business of the City. 

“The doctors advised me not to do any work (this week),” he said. “Obviously that’s almost impossible in this day and age. I’ve been able to log on and do some work.  

“On an average day, I get lots of complaints and concerns about what goes on in the City. Some of those people who were complaining have written nice apology letters. People are being respectful. People are really compassionate and they know I’m going through a problem.” 

Russell, who has donated more than 10 gallons of blood to the Red Cross in the past quarter-century, does not know how the heart attack will impact that going forward. However, he encourages all who are able to donate now to the Red Cross, whether blood or financially, to assist the victims of Hurricane Harvey.