Cardiologist explains frightening football scene

A matter of milliseconds could be the difference between Damar Hamlin continuing to play the next play versus collapsing and needing life-saving measures.

“If you get hit in the chest,” said University of Maryland Medical System cardiologist Dr. Scott Jerome, “if it happens between heartbeats in a very small amount of time, it can lead to ventricular fibrillation.

“The heart stops beating,” said Jerome, assistant professor of medicine.

Hamlin, a Buffalo Bills quarterback, was in critical condition Monday night after suffering cardiac arrest in a collision with Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. He got up, but then passed out, and as the stadium spectators and Monday Night Football viewers watched in horror, medical personnel performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation and an automated external defibrillator, or AED, was applied to him. He was taken by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

“Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after getting into our game against the Bengals. His heart has been restored to the field and he has been transferred to the University of California Medical Center for further testing and treatment,” Bill said in a statement around 2 a.m. Tuesday. “He is currently sedated and in critical condition.”

Jerome, who didn’t watch the game but watched replays, said late Monday night that Hamlin appeared to be suffering from commotio cordis, Latin for “excitement of the heart,” from a blow to the chest at a specific time in the heart rate cycle. . This causes an interruption in the electrical signal of the heart and cardiac arrest.

“It’s a very narrow window,” said Jerome.

This phenomenon is seen in youth baseball and lacrosse, he says, when balls hit players in the chest.

Indeed, on April 16, 2021, Loyola Blakefield defenseman Peter Laake was hit in the chest during a game with McDonough and passed out. Team staff and two doctors in the stands rushed to treat him with an AED before he was taken to the hospital. After a short hospital stay and tests, he was allowed to play and enrolled at the University of Maryland this fall.

Young athletes are more vulnerable compared to older, professional athletes who absorb shock better.

“These players are tough and have a lot of strength to take a hit,” Jerome said.

Commotio cordis is rare, with fewer than 30 cases each year, according to an article in the National Library of Medicine.

Jerome said the prognosis for Hamlin should be “pretty good” considering “they have all the medical equipment on the pitch.”

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