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The instant Candlestick went dark for John Burgess

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013 | Posted by

BY CHRIS SMITH/The Press Democrat

Invited by a buddy to last weekend’s big 49ers/Packers game, I was one of some thousands of fans curious and concerned about a flurry of paramedic activity just behind one of the end zones in the fourth quarter.

John Burgess as he shot portraits at downtown Santa Rosa’s 2011 Handcar Regatta.

There hadn’t been an injury on the field, so who was loaded into the ambulance that a policeman on a light-flashing motorcycle led out of the stadium?

I could barely believe it minutes later when a phone call from The Press Democrat newsroom informed me it was my friend John Burgess, the world-class PD photographer.

John had suffered a heart attack and crumpled while shooting photos from the goal line.

Think of that. If it had to happen, could he possibly have been in a better spot? Within seconds, the emergency medical personnel on the sidelines were working on him, trying to restore his heartbeat and breathing.

John, an oft-honored creative genius who loves sports photography and in addition to his PD work has shot more than 300 assignments for Sports Illustrated, was revived by ambulance paramedics who shocked him back to life prior to their arrival at San Francisco General Hospital.

“The first person I remember seeing,” he told me Wednesday in an e-mail, “was Robert Beck, a photographer from Sports Illustrated who I worked with on the golf tour for the magazine and have known for 20 years.”

Beck left the game because he didn’t want John to be alone at the hospital, and he knew it would take some time for John’s wife, the PD’s Mary Callahan Burgess, to get there from Santa Rosa.

“He held my hand and stroked my head until the police shut down the ER (emergency room) because of gunshot wounds,” John said. “I felt like I was in a war zone.”

Today he’s feeling hugely grateful to Beck, the paramedics, the motorcycle cop who rode escort to the hospital and a heap of SF General doctors and nurses — some of whom are calling him a miracle boy because he’s come through so extremely well.

John will have bypass surgery before he comes home to his family and begins to plot a return to shooting magic with those Canons of his.

  • Kate

    Thank you for your article Chris! I have dispatched/witnessed many security emergencies at Candlestick. I proudly sit beside the medical dispatchers…and every medical emergency, especially one like John’s, is difficult to witness. And although I never know these people personally, I worry for them, for their families and we all hope they are ok. When I heard John’s situation improved upon arrival at the hospital, I was so relieved. I don’t know him, but as part of the Candlestick family that day, I wish him a speedy recovery and am grateful he is recovering. I’ve been watching the news to check on him and in doing so, learned quickly what a talented man he is! Take good care of yourself John….and know you are in the thoughts and prayers of those who are glad your story has a happy ending!

    • Chris Smith

      Thanks very much, Kate. I will make sure John is aware of your well wishes. He is a most remarkable man.

  • Grace Humphreys

    Oh My god get better fast john your family and friends do not want to see you go its not your time yet

  • ER

    I had the honor of meeting John Burgess when he did a photo shoot at my place of work for an article about videoconferencing. I was one of the people he photographed. He is a total pro and an extremely talented photographer. Wishing you a speedy recovery, John, and saying prayers and sending positive thoughts to you and your family!

  • Alex H

    Thanks for taking us behind the scene, Chris. And a speedy recovery for Mr. Burgess!

  • Anne McGivern

    John, get well very quickly…Lots of love to you and all the family

  • http://www.footographersdelight.com Eileen Gayle

    What a surprise, John, to see this article. Your name just popped into my head & I googled your name to see what you’ve been up to and this is what I found. I hope you’re well on the way to being all better. I miss your expert classes at the SRJC. My best, Eileen

  • Kara

    I was sitting in the front row in the corner that John collapsed and recorded the entire thing. The girl sitting next to me was a nurse and rushed down to him before emergency personnel arrived. She came back to her seat when they did and said that he was not breathing. The personnel worked on him for about 7-8 minutes before he was on an ambulance headed to the hospital. The entire section was in a surreal mood as this was going on..considering a life or death situation was unfolding right in the mist of this championship game.

    I couldn’t sleep for an entire week…wondering what happened to him. The next weekend I was working out with a team in Sacramento when I noticed a guy with a 49ers jacket on. Teammates said he worked with the 49ers. I spoke to him and described the situation of what happened. He said that he worked the scene….and that John made it.

    I was so relieved. I showed the EMT the video, and sure enough, he was right there in the thick of things. I gave him the video, which he was then able to show John.

    I’m so glad John made it.

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