Monday, Sept. 1, 2014

Utah Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund 'doing well' after being rushed to hospital

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News

Published: Wed, March 12 2:50 p.m. MDT

 Emergency responders take Utah Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, out of the state Capitol on a stretcher in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

Emergency responders take Utah Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, out of the state Capitol on a stretcher in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, March 12, 2014.

(Laura Seitz, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, was "stable and doing well" after leaving the Capitol on a stretcher Wednesday afternoon, according to statement from the lawmaker's family.

Okerlund, who has a history of heart problems, suffered a "medical event" Wednesday afternoon, Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said.

"We ask you to keep him and his family in your prayers," the Sandy Republican said.

A statement released by Okerlund's family and posted on The Senate Site said the Senate majority leader was "in good spirits and already joking about coming back and finishing his bills."

"He said, 'I’d go back right now if they’d let me,'" according to the statement.

But that likely won't happen, family members said.

"Hospital personnel need to finish some tests, and we don’t expect he will return to the Capitol (Wednesday or Thursday, the final day of the session)," the statement read.

Niederhauser read the family's statement on the Senate floor later Wednesday.

Okerlund was conducting a meeting with House and Senate GOP leaders when he stepped out into the hallway and apparently passed out. He said he had felt light-headed.

Lobbyist Mike Swenson was with former lawmaker Aaron Tilton awaiting a presentation in a nearby closed Senate GOP caucus meeting when the pair said they discovered Okerlund face down in a hallway.

"He was all alone," Tilton said. "I don't know how long it would have been before he was noticed if we hadn't been there."

Swenson, who lobbies on rural access issues particularly critical in Okerlund's district, said seeing the senator unconscious was alarming.

"I love that man. He is one of the best people up here. I worry about him," he said.

A participant in the leadership meeting, who said he heard Okerlund fall and hurried to his side, scrambled to retrieve first aid equipment for Okerlund and to round up people on the Hill who have medical training.

Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, an emergency room doctor, worked on Okerlund until paramedics arrived.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, a nurse, confirmed she also offered assistance. The speaker said she would prefer not to talk about the incident, which occurred as leaders were handling the final details of the budget.

"Clearly we were alarmed and concerned for Sen. Okerlund," Lockhart said.

Niederhauser asked Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, to lead the Senate in prayer. In part, Valentine prayed that the hands that care for Okerlund would "be loving, caring and skillful."

"We are deeply, deeply grateful for the prayers offered on Ralph’s behalf," Okerlund's family said in a statement. "We are also very thankful for the capable reaction and care of his colleagues in the Legislature and emergency response personnel. … Thank you for your love and concern for our family."

Earlier in the session, on Heart on the Hill Day, an event promoting awareness of cardiac health, Shiozawa noted that 80 percent of heart attacks occur outside of health care settings, so it is important that people know how to perform cardiac pulmonary resuscitation.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com, amyjoi@deseretnews.com

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