SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) — Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s collapse prompted questions about how common cardiac arrest is for athletes, particularly football players.
Dr. John Evans, the Cardiothoracic Surgeon at CHRISTUS Shreveport Bossier Health System and other doctors say although it is rare, college and professional athletes can go into cardiac arrest, and it isn’t always due to the brutality of the sport.
“Him playing football was probably unrelated to exactly what happened; he could have been on the sidewalk when this happened,” Dr. John Evans said, “Likely he had some kind of condition, a cardiac condition, that led to his cardiac arrest.”
Cardiac arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function in a person who may or may not have been diagnosed with heart disease. It can come on suddenly or in the wake of other symptoms, according to the American Heart Association.
“A cardiac arrest in someone who’s under 35, particularly in athletes, it’s going to typically be kind of an inherited condition, something like you may have heard that is called a hypertrophic instructive cardiomyopathy when the heart muscle they’re born with a genetic condition where the heart muscle gets excessively thick and that puts you at risk of sudden cardiac death.”
Dr. Charles Webb, the director of the Sports Medicine Division at LSUHS, said someone under the age of 35, like 24-year-old Hamlin, can suffer from commotio cordis, which is a bruise to the heart muscle caused by blunt force trauma.
“He got struck in the chest by a helmet as he went down then he was able to stand back up briefly and then collapsed. That is classic of what commotio cordis is, where an athlete will be able to stand up then immediately collapse because he has now that heart arrhythmia that occurs such as ventricular fibrillation, but none of that is confirmed,” Webb said.
Hamlin, who collapsed right after a tackle, received CPR and other treatment on the field for more than nine minutes.
Research says early delivery of shock with a defibrillator – plus CPR within three to five minutes of collapse can increase survival rates up to 45 – 75 %. Defibrillator and CPR combined can often reverse a cardiac arrest.
According to the National Center For Bio-Technology Information, even if you’re not CPR certified, early bystander CPR is said to double or triple the victim’s chance of survival from cardiac arrest.
“You stick pads on the patient, it tells you exactly where to stick them. And then you hit process, or on the button, it will read that patient’s rhythm, and it will advise you whether to shock or not,” said Dr. Evans. “And if it’s not a shockable rhythm, it doesn’t advise a shock. If it is a shocking rhythm, it advises a shock and presses the shock button, and being a bystander, you can save someone’s life doing that.”
Young athletes are strongly encouraged to get their routine physicals to be sure they are medically cleared to play.