Trainers and defibrillators essential during sports cardiac emergencies

Professional football player Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest during Monday night’s game in Cincinnati. 24-year-old Hamlin is it’s doing much better nowaccording to his family and teammates.

Doug Casa is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Connecticut where he studies the health and safety of athletes and workers.

WYSO’s Chris Welter spoke with Cas about what happened to Damar Hamlin this week and how quick response from medical professionals can help save lives.

Transcript (lightly edited for length and clarity)

Doug Casa: We certainly still don’t know exactly what caused that cardiac event. My hunch is that this was the case Commotio cordis, which is a cardiac event that occurs after trauma. It happens more often in things like baseball, lacrosse, ice hockey, where there’s a little projectile that hits the heart at a certain point in the beat, it’s about 1/800 of a second. This can cause an arrhythmia or a problem with the heart in terms of the functionality of the normal rhythm. This is not common in football, although it has certainly happened in the past.

Chris Welter: How common is it commotio cordis?

Doug: You might see ten or fifteen events in America a year, but that’s usually in the eight to fourteen age group and you usually see that in youth sports that have missiles.

Chris: If you are the parent of a young athlete, what can you do to protect your child from these rare heart problems that can occur as a result of trauma?

Doug: So the big thing you want to do to survive a Commotio cordis the event has urgent care. So that would mean CPR be registered and then obviously have an athletic trainer on site. At the high school or youth sports level, it is important to have a licensed medical professional who is the first person to care for someone. As you saw with Damar Hamlin, the athletic trainers were working on him within ten, fifteen seconds of him going down and I would guess that CPR was probably started within a minute at the latest. Then they kept him on defibrillator within maybe another minute or less. That’s the key.

Every parent in youth sports, for example, if you’re in an ice hockey rink with your kids, there needs to be defibrillator in the youth sports complex because you can’t wait for an ambulance to arrive. Every minute that passes when a defibrillator not applied, the person’s survival drops by 10%. If you wait five, six, seven minutes for an ambulance to arrive, then the chances of the child surviving that cardiac incident are really slim. So I recommend yes defibrillator is out on the sports fields, and we’re constantly promoting the athletic trainers at every high school in America—two-thirds of high schools in America currently have access to one. We simply cannot rely on coaches to decide whether a child lives or dies, whether it’s a stroke, a cardiac event, a brain bleed like an epidural, subdural hematoma or post-exertion heart attack, diabetes or asthma. We want the coaches to recognize that this is a serious problem, but we want them to immediately bring in an athletic trainer within a minute or two.

Having trainers trained in CPR, defibrillator access to and having an athletic trainer is key to success at the youth sports level.

Chris: When I was growing up playing baseball, they sold heart protective gear. Is there any equipment you recommend for young athletes?

Doug: It’s there Research out there on heart protective gear – you also have things like softer baseballs– which some people think change the probability Commotio cordis. The evidence is not overwhelming because if you get hit in that particular cycle, it’s not necessarily the speed of the ball, it’s the timing of the shot. It doesn’t have to be 90 miles an hour, so it could be 40 or 50 miles an hour if it hits you at that particular time.

So some of those defenses might be a good idea, but you can still have an episode. You still need to take precautions. This does not negate the need for trainers to be trained in CPR and to have physical trainers and defibrillatoris available whenever possible.

Surely every high school in America should have athletic trainers, as well as major baseball tournaments, lacrosse tournaments, soccer tournaments, ice hockey tournaments. A lot of people have made it seem complicated over the past few days, but it really comes down to getting CPR started as quickly as possible and having a medical professional there who can recognize what the condition is and how to respond quickly.

Chris Welter is a reporter and corps member for Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms.

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