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OC Register: Angels broadcaster Mark Langston shares near death experience with Astros counterpart Steve Sparks

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At some point when the Angels and Houston Astros meet again, there figures to be an emotional meeting in the press box between Mark Langston and Steve Sparks.

The two friends are both former big league pitchers and have been counterparts as the radio analysts for the Angels and Astros, and they now have something new in common.

Both died.

Within a three-month span last year, Langston and Sparks both were brought back from being clinically dead amid heart-related emergencies.

Sparks, in fact, was sitting just feet away from Langston in their adjacent booths in the Minute Maid Park press box on Sept. 20 when Langston collapsed. Sparks had darted over to the next booth just as he heard paramedics say “we’ve got a pulse.”

All of those memories returned for Sparks on Dec. 11, when he felt something amiss and an ache in his left arm. Shortly after his wife rushed him to the hospital, he collapsed with a heart attack.

Now, both Langston and Sparks say they are feeling pretty much normal, having made full recoveries. Former Angels pitchers — although never teammates — Sparks and Langston are looking forward to resuming their jobs as radio analysts for division rivals.

They are eager to get back in the press box, with the added allure of  renewing a friendship that has gone to a new level because of their shared experience.

“I don’t remember a lot about the hospital,” Sparks said, “but I remember looking back at my text messages and I reached out to (Langston) pretty quickly. I had a lot of questions. Most of it was what he was going through mentally. The first couple months I was shocked that it happened to me. I felt more vulnerable. I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was.

“That was my perception. Things weren’t as concrete. As a former professional athlete for 19 years, you feel some invincibility, right or wrong. To go down and feel I had no control of that situation was mentally jarring, so having Mark and my buddy Kevin who went through the same thing in a close span was a great support system.”

Kevin Eschenfelder, a member of the Astros television broadcast team, had coincidentally had a heart attack the same day as Langston’s ventricular fibrillation.

Langston’s quickly became public because it happened during the first inning of the Angels-Astros game. Police officers, who happened to be in the media dining room across the hall, administered CPR to Langston until paramedics could arrive to shock him back to life, all in the span of a few minutes while shaken broadcast partner Terry Smith somehow managed to continue doing play-by-play a few feet away.

For 3-1/2 minutes, Langston was clinically dead. Sparks, whose is seat is just separated from Langston’s by a window with a sliding door, came over just in time to see him revived.

Langston would spend the next several days in a Houston hospital, and he underwent a procedure to have a defibrillator attached to his heart. Now, nearly eight months later, Langston said he feels totally normal. The only concession is that he was unable to play golf this winter because doctors didn’t want the movement of a swing to jostle the defibrillator.

Angels broadcaster Mark Langston underwent a procedure in Houston to have a defibrillator inserted into his heart. Langston invited Houston Police Department Commanders Paul follis and Daryn Edwards to the hospital to thank them for saving his life by administering CPR after he collapsed before a game in Houston. (Photo via Houston PD Twitter)

Langston, 59, still feels lucky to be alive, though, because he knows if the incident had occurred at just about any other time — in his hotel room or on the bus to the ballpark — he wouldn’t have received the medical attention quickly enough to survive.

“The way it played out, I am very blessed,” he said this week. “Most any other outcome it doesn’t work out like this.”

Sparks had gone to visit Langston in the hospital a couple days after the incident. He’d also kept close with Eschenfelder.

“I had been jarred by those experiences because they both seemed to be the pictures of health,” Sparks said. “They seemed vibrant and very much alive. Probably not a day had gone by that I hadn’t thought about them.”

He said he thought of them a little more on that December day when he was driving home after hitting golf balls and working out, and he felt a “coolness in my chest.” He got home and threw up. His wife insisted on taking him to the emergency room immediately, and within a minute of sitting down in the waiting room he blacked out.

“It felt like the curtains were coming down from the top of my eye sight,” Sparks said.

Sparks said he “literally died three times. They brought me back three times through the compressions.”

He said he had a 99-percent blockage of the artery that carries fresh blood into the heart. It is the type of heart attack often called the “widowmaker” because the prognosis is so bleak.

Sparks, 54, was revived and had a stent inserted into his heart. He said he subsequently learned he had a family history of heart disease, so he wishes he would have been more proactive at getting checked. Sparks said he encourages anyone who has a family history of heart issues to get regular coronary calcium scans to check for potential blockages.

With Sparks and Langston both feeling normal now, the colleagues are ready to get back to work and be reunited at the ballpark, not just by texts or phone calls.

“He’s one of the closer guys I’ve been with,” Langston said. “He’s an ex-player, an ex-Angel. We always had a blast together. I usually touch base with him over the winter, but we have definitely talked more because of these scenarios. I’m glad he’s doing very well.”

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