Top rugby player Hoani MacDonald is understood to have "flatlined" twice after his shock collapse yesterday.
MacDonald's Southland team was playing Counties Manukau in the ITM Cup semifinal in Pukekohe when he dropped to the ground and his heart stopped beating.
Pukekohe Volunteer Fire Brigade's senior station officer Graeme Wilson was watching the game with three other volunteer firefighters when MacDonald fell to his knees and seizured minutes before half time.
Wilson said MacDonald was talking to the team doctor when he had a "fit" and fell unconscious. His condition deteriorated rapidly and he went into cardiac arrest just minutes after being stretchered off the field.
"It was pretty scary and definitely life-threatening for a while," Wilson said. "I could tell by the anxiety of the ambulance officers."
Ambulance officers used a defibrillator on MacDonald after CPR and a shot of adrenaline failed to bring back his pulse.
"Lucky it caused him to come out of it and he had a pulse and could breathe on his own."
Wilson said ambulance staff, rugby doctors, police and firefighters worked for around 15-20 minutes to stabilise MacDonald before he was transferred to Middlemore Hospital where he remained in a critical condition last night.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Hoani MacDonald, his wife and family and his Southland team-mates this morning. This has obviously come like a bolt from the blue, and in all probability will mean the end of MacDonald's career as a professional rugby player.
And kudos too to those who saved Hoani MacDonald's life. It was a nightmare situation, but their professionalism kicked in as they did what they are trained to do.
Get well soon Hoani.