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Damar Hamlin's cardiac arrest is rare but isn't unprecedented in sports. Here's what parents and local athletes should know

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture on Flickr.
Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture on Flickr.

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin remains in critical condition after experiencing cardiac arrest during Monday Night’s NFL game, which was suspended following the event.

Doctors treating Hamlin have not yet said what happened, but experts who observed the televised hit think the cardiac arrest was probably a case of "commotio cordis," said George Eldayrie, a sports medicine physician with Orlando Health Jewett Orthopaedic Institute

"There's like a millisecond window where the heart is kind of recharging, so to speak, it's during the repolarization phase of the heart, and if you're struck at the exact moment in that sequence, and it contusions, the heart then can immediately be sent into this cardiac arrest cycle," he said. "This was just a moment in time that happened at the exact moment, the exact angle, and it caused this. That's the other thing we're assuming, based on the way he was contacted in the chest."

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Orlando Health
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Orlando Health
George Eldayrie, MD, is a board-certified primary care sports medicine physician with the Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute.

Eldayrie says sports physicians are trained for nightmare scenarios like Monday's game and have seen such sequences occur in Orange County, albeit rare.

Not all cases are due to commotio cordis, as some instances could be the result of genetic conditions.

In December, a former University of Central Florida football player, Jake Hescock, died after suffering cardiac arrest while on a jog in Boston and suffered a severe brain injury during the event, according to UCF.

In 2007, 15-year-old Rafe Maccarone, a Cocoa Beach High School soccer player, went into cardiac arrest during a jogging warmup prior to a game and died the next day, according to the nonprofit Who We Play For, an organization dedicated to heart health.

As a result, Orange County made it mandatory last year for public school athletes to receive electrocardiograms as part of their preseason screenings to find genetic conditions that might lead to cardiac events. Volusia County did the same at the start of Fall 2022.

While screenings are crucial cardiac events can still occur, Eldayrie said.

“That means we need people who have trained in CPR around and not just doctors, There are a lot of sporting events that happen without doctors there, right? There's travel soccer, there's club football that sort of thing. So, coaches, and parents need to be CPR trained,” he said.

In addition to CPR, Eldayrie says an on-site automated external defibrillator, or AED, applied quickly to a cardiac patient can improve survival odds up to 85%.

Preseason screenings are crucial for an athlete's health and detailed histories of an athlete's genetic heritage can help doctors find red flags early.

"I think having your preseason screening, answering the history questions very carefully and thoroughly it's very important to help us identify whether there is anything that can help predict whether we're going to run into an issue down the road,” Eldayrie said. "Cardiac arrest in sports is not a matter of if they're going to happen, it's a matter of when are they going to happen? And unfortunately, last night, we saw it on national television."

What to do if someone collapses

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, cardiac arrest causes about 300,000 to 450,000 deaths in the United States each year. Quick action can save lives. Someone may be suffering from cardiac arrest if they show these symptoms:

  • a sudden collapse
  • No pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • No breathing

If someone is exhibiting these symptoms you should:

  • Call 911
  • Perform CPR
  • Administer an AED

According to the Mayo Clinic, CPR can be applied by checking the person's breathing. If the person isn't breathing normally, begin CPR. Push hard and fast on the person's chest — at the rate of 100 to 120 compressions a minute. If you've been trained in CPR, check the person's airway and deliver rescue breaths after every 30 compressions.

Originally from South Florida, Joe Mario came to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida where he graduated with degrees in Radio & Television Production, Film, and Psychology. He worked several beats and covered multimedia at The Villages Daily Sun but returned to the City Beautiful as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel where he covered crime, hurricanes, and viral news. Joe Mario has too many interests and not enough time but tries to focus on his love for strange stories in comic books and horror movies. When he's not writing he loves to run in his spare time.
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