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'It was a miracle,' nurse says of reviving referee at game

 

Even from his hospital bed, Benjy Bluman was back on his phone connecting with friends Sunday.

The day before, the longtime referee had collapsed while working a championship basketball game at Williamsville North High School, only to be revived by two doctors and two nurses in the crowd.

With Bluman, a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, lying in the middle of the court, they worked on him for 15 minutes before he regained consciousness.

"It was a miracle, it really was," said Heidi Neu, one of the nurses. "We were definitely worried about him."

Her husband, Dr. Jeffery R. Neu, said Bluman was unresponsive and appeared to be in cardiac arrest when they arrived at his side.

"He was definitely pulseless, lifeless," said Dr. Ray Ogra, the other physician at the scene.

The doctors and nurses immediately began CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and continued until he regained consciousness. They also used a defibrillator to shock him three times.

Ogra said the packed crowd became quiet once it became clear what they were doing and, at one point, the only sound you could hear in the gym was the computer voice coming from the defibrillator.

"A hush came over the crowd," Ogra said. "It was a very surreal scene."

On the third shock from the defibrillator, Bluman's pulse returned.

"It was literally one of the most beautiful experiences you can imagine," Ogra said of the pulse he felt come back, signaling life. "It was a reminder of both the beauty and frailty of life."

By the time emergency personnel carried him out in a stretcher, Bluman had regained his vital signs and was awake.

"When he left, his eyes were open," Jeffery Neu said.

On Sunday, Bluman, 74, was still at Buffalo General Medical Center but awake and feeling better, according to his wife.

She said her husband is expected to stay there until doctors figure out what happened to him and why.

"I left him his phone and power cord," Laurie Bluman said with a laugh.

Onlookers said the championship tournament game between North and Williamsville East was only about 4 minutes old when Bluman suddenly collapsed.

Without prompting, the Neus and Ogra – their children play for East – rushed to his side.

As they worked on Bluman and with the crowd anxiously looking on, officials, fearing the worst, at one point put a black curtain around them.

"At a very scary moment with a gym full of students, players and fans, the immediate response from trained individuals in the crowd was amazing," said Warren Todd Colville, one of the people in attendance.

Like Heidi Neu, Colville, a vice president at The Buffalo News, described it as a "Christmas miracle."

A well-known local sports figure, Bluman has been a high school and college basketball official for 45 years and at one time served as president of the local chapter of the International Association of Approved Basketball Officials.

Even before he worked as a referee, he was a standout high school and college basketball player.

As a senior at Riverside High School, he led the Yale Cup in points and was named to the All-High team. Later, he would captain the first Buffalo State College team to earn an NCAA tournament bid.

“Growing up I always had a ball in my hand,” Bluman said during an interview in 2016. “My parents both still can’t understand why I’m not teaching gym. … I always loved sports.”

That love took him to the softball diamond where he played 12 years with the Plant 6 slo-pitch team, a squad that traveled as far away as Kansas, Florida and Alabama, and was named slo-pitch player of the year in 1980 and 1981.

Three years ago, Bluman earned another honor with his induction into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.

“I’m totally surprised by the whole thing,” he said at the time. "When you consider the people that are in there … Reggie McKenzie, Alex Mogilny and all the pro athletes that are in there. My name is up there, even though it was never professionally … it was stuff that I just enjoy doing.”

Bluman is also a member of the Officials Hall of Fame, the Buffalo State Athletics Hall of Fame, the Western New York Softball Hall of Fame and is on the Jewish Center Sports Wall of Fame.

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