Friends' quick action saves S.C. man after heart attack

(CBS News) GREER, S.C. -- Fifty-two-year-old Tony Gilliard is approaching life like never before.

"You gotta live your life like every day is your last day," he says.

Tony Gilliard
Tony Gilliard
CBS News

This past June 11 almost was his last day. Gilliard was playing his regular weekly basketball game in a church gymnasium in Greer, S.C., when he suddenly passed out. It quickly became clear that this was a matter of life or death.

"I don't remember nothing," Gilliard says. "I was just dead. I just died."

It was a heart attack, and Gilliard was in full cardiac arrest. His teammates immediately got to work.

One grabbed the defibrillator the church had just recently installed. Another started chest compressions.

Yet another, who had undergone defibrillator training just four days before, shocked Gilliard's heart back to life -- four-and-a-half minutes after it had stopped beating.

Tony Gilliard collapsed on the basketball court and went into cardiac arrest.
Tony Gilliard collapsed on the basketball court and went into cardiac arrest.
CBS News

As the EMTs arrived about five minutes later, Gilliard began to regain consciousness.

Gilliard says the first thing he thought was that he was "a little embarrassed."

"I'm laying here, looking up and EMTs are around me, and [I thought], 'OK, I just messed up a pretty good basketball game," he says.

At first, Gilliard didn't want to watch the security camera video, but when he finally did, he was stunned. All of the men came together and did their roles as if they had rehearsed them.

"They were heroic," Gilliard says.

After Tony Gilliard had a heart attack, his teammates quickly got to work.
After Tony Gilliard had a heart attack, his teammates quickly got to work.
CBS News

Gilliard's teammates David Sandquist, Josh Thomas and Chard Garrett refused to give up.

"All I could think about was Father's Day was right there, and this guy has kids," Garrett says. "We're not gonna ruin their Father's Day."

Gilliard and his wife Rita have two grown children and three grandchildren.

Rita says that if Gilliard's teammates had not sprung into action, "my night would have been drastically different. I would have been planning a funeral."

Gilliard often watches the weekly basketball game from the sidelines. He isn't ready to play yet, but he does practice his shot.

He says there's one part that he still can't get out of his mind: at the end, as he was wheeled out of the gym, when his friends got down on their knees and prayed.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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