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Utah Senate leader suffers apparent heart attack

Published March 12, 2014 5:29 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, collapsed at the Capitol Wednesday and was initially treated there by members who are doctors, nurses and EMTs before being transported to a hospital.

The senator's family indicated that while he was alert and joking, it was unlikely he would return to the Legislature before its mandatory adjournment for the year at midnight Thursday.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart said Okerlund was in a meeting with House and Senate Republican leaders discussing final touches on this year's budget when he collapsed.

Senators said leaders called for members who could help him. Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, who is an EMT and works with search and rescue patrols, performed CPR.

Senators said other legislators who are doctors soon arrived, including Rep. Ed Redd, R-Logan, and Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, who is an emergency room doctor. Lockhart, a nurse, also assisted.

"Clearly we were alarmed and concerned about Senator Okerlund," Lockhart said.

Senators said Okerlund regained consciousness at one point and asked to be injected with medicine he keeps with him. The 61-year-old lawmaker previously suffered a heart attack about two years ago and had surgery afterward.

Ric Cantrell, chief of staff for the Senate, said the Senate expected to release little information officially so as to protect Okerlund's privacy, but confirmed that he collapsed and had been transported to a hospital.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, fought back tears as he announced the incident.

"We want to thank the Highway Patrol and the medical personnel in this body who assisted Senator Okerlund and we ask you to keep him and his family in your prayers," Niederhauser said.

"Ralph is alert, stable and doing well. He is in good spirits and already joking about coming back and finishing his bills," the family said late Wednesday afternoon in a statement. "He said, 'I'd go back right now if they'd let me.'

"That probably won't happen. Hospital personnel need to finish some tests and we don't expect he will return to the Capitol [Thursday]. We are deeply, deeply grateful for the concern and prayers offered on Ralph's behalf. We are also very thankful for the capable reaction and care of his colleagues in the Legislature and emergency response personnel."

Topher Webb contributed to this report.