What we can learn from Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest


The shocking collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin on Monday 02 Jan has renewed concerns about the dangers of American football.

Hamlin’s cardiac arrest highlights the need to make automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) readily accessible in all sports facilities, especially where youth sports are played. The scary moment occurred after Hamlin, 24, apparently slammed his chest into the shoulder of Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. Hamlin stood up briefly after the tackle before collapsing on the field. His heart had stopped.

Medical staff members rushed to perform chest compressions and used an AED to shock his heart. According to a statement from the Bills, Hamlin’s heartbeat was restored on the field. An ambulance took him to the hospital, where he remains in critical condition.

Details are still emerging about Hamlin’s medical circumstances. The most likely explanation is that he suffered from commotio cordis, a very rare but serious condition after blunt trauma to the chest. If the impact is strong enough and occurs at a specific moment between heartbeats, it can send the heart into an erratic, disorganized rhythm called ventricular fibrillation. Without immediate treatment, ventricular fibrillation is fatal. Once the heart stops pumping blood, oxygen no longer reaches vital organs.

CPR can buy time by manually compressing the heart to pump blood, but what’s needed is to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. In Hamlin’s case, the medical team arrived on the field within several seconds of his collapse. He received CPR right away, and luckily an AED was available, along with trained personnel, to deliver the shock. While we don’t yet know his prognosis, the rapid intervention gave him the best chance of survival and recovery.


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