A youth basketball game in Seaford in January turned scary when referee Terry Twibell went into cardiac arrest. Because of the actions of police officers, medics and ordinary citizens, he is around to thank all those who came to his aid. His rescuers were honored at an event sponsored by the Nassau County Men’s Basketball Officiating Association on March 9 at Chateau Briand in Carle Place. County Executive Ed Mangano and Acting Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter were on hand to congratulate them, as was Twibell.
The longtime Seaford resident and father of four was officiating an eighth-grade girls’ CYO game between St. William the Abbot Church and St. Bernard Church in Levittown at Seaford Middle School on Jan. 31 when he blew his whistle in the second quarter and suddenly collapsed. Among those who immediately came to his aid were Patrick Rail, a Seaford Board of Education member, and Karen Winter, a physician’s assistant, both parents of girls on the St. William team. Rail, a Nassau County police detective who was off duty, is also an assistant coach.
Twibell wasn’t breathing, and Rail, Winter and others began administering CPR. A parent ran into the hallway and grabbed the automated external defibrillator, which was used to give Twibell a shock. Rail said that Twibell then gave a big gasp and started breathing. By then, officers and medics from the Nassau County Police Department showed up, and they gave him oxygen, took him out of the gym and put him in an ambulance that headed to Winthrop University Hospital.
“He was blue. He was not alive,” Rail said, recounting the minute or so that Twibell wasn’t breathing. “It’s a great feeling to help save someone’s life.” NCPD officer Michael Valela said he was on the scene within three minutes of hearing the call on his radio, and helped give Twibell chest compressions and a bag valve mask with oxygen. He then escorted the ambulance to the hospital. “It’s truly amazing,” Valela said of helping to save a life. “It’s everything you want when you become a police officer. “The people inside of the building, they gave us a pretty good start,” he added, making clear the importance of having civilians trained in CPR and in the use of AEDs.
The other officers honored included John Ripp, David Tate and Joseph Clougher, and medics Scott Dipino, Robert Freeman and Steven Doucette. Dipino, a supervisor, said this was one of the few instances he could recall of arriving on scene when an AED had already been used. He explained that the care Twibell received in the first three minutes after he collapsed was crucial to his survival. “It’s one of the few times in my career I’ve ever seen all of the pieces of the puzzle fall together so seamlessly,” he said.
Seaford School District Superintendent Brian Conboy, who addressed the incident at a recent Board of Education meeting, said this was the third time an AED has been used since they were put into the schools in 2002, and all three people are still alive. Conboy said that according to fellow school superintendents, most districts have never made use of these devices. “It’s just a wonderful thing that AEDs are in every school now,” Twibell said. “That made the difference.”
The basketball game was postponed, and resumed several days later. “After that,” Rail said, “you realized that the game wasn’t important any more.” Twibell, 55, has been refereeing for nine years, and said he hopes to return in a few months. He had bypass surgery following the incident, and said he had no prior warning signs. “I’m eternally grateful for the people who immediately came to my aid,” he said. “Their expertise and their calmness saved my life.”
Twibell owns a small business, AM Exclusive Business Machines in Queens, and has been working from home since his medical emergency, but expected to go back to the office this week. His four children are 24, 22, 18 and 12, and the youngest is in seventh grade at Seaford Middle School. “I’m just grateful to everyone who had a hand in this,” said his wife, Diane. “What do you say to the people who gave your children back their dad?”