TORRINGTON >> Six months ago, baseball umpire Mike McHugh almost died behind the plate in a freshman game at Torrington High School.
Now, back on the baseball field, he’s worked out a plan to thank those who helped save his life.
“Everything I learned, I learned from your article,” said McHugh. “I remember leaving work and getting on the highway, but nothing after that – short term memory loss, I guess.”
What’s blocked out from McHugh’s memory is a scene in which he fell face down across the plate with a heart attack early in a game with Woodland on Friday, April 19.
Torrington parents Tracy Covington and Liza Finello were there to watch their sons, Kobe and Dalton, play.
Covington is a 15-year veteran RN with extensive experience in Waterbury Hospital’s intensive care unit. Finello has worked for 11 years as a patient care tech, with long experience in the Charlotte Hungerford intensive care unit.
Both of them, with assistance from other parents, went to work on McHugh.
“His heart beat was on and off,” said Finello.
JV coach Art Richardson, filling in as freshman coach for the game, is a friend of McHugh’s.
“He was dead on the field. They saved his life,” said Richardson.
Covington and Finello kept McHugh’s heart beating for 10 minutes while emergency units were on their way.
McHugh picks up the story from there.
“I got to (Hartford Hospital) on Friday. They kept me in an induced coma until Monday.”
By Thursday, surgeons were ready to operate.
“They initially thought four bypasses; then they decided on five,” says McHugh.
“I left the hospital Tuesday. They kicked me out,” laughed McHugh. “I felt better than I thought I would, so, when they told me I could walk, they couldn’t keep me in my room.”
McHugh stayed out of work until the beginning of July, when doctors also cleared the 16-year veteran umpire for a return to baseball.
“I held off until the end of the summer,” said McHugh.
Fall baseball had him back in uniform, seeking ways to thank Covington and Finello.
“I wanted to do something nice for the two mothers, but they wanted nothing to do with it,” he said.
Umpires don’t usually change their calls. Besides, they’ve studied more human nature than most.
In most cases, the best way to reach parents is through their kids.
“I thought of my experience as a positive,” said McHugh, who got a get-well card signed by Torrington’s entire freshman team. “Because of that, I wanted the kids to go away with a positive feeling about it.”
McHugh’s son Michael had the answer. An employee of Bristol’s Healthtrax Gym, which shares a building with Parisi Sports and Diamond King, the younger McHugh worked with his boss, Linda Clemons, and Parisi’s Mike Church on a plan for the kids and their parents to get free time at the facility.
“They’re a good group of kids,” smiles McHugh. “Now, maybe when I ring one of them out on strike three, they won’t be as mad at me.”
“The experience made me appreciate things more,” he said.
Chances are, that’s true of everyone on the scene six months ago as well.