UNT and DISD officials are confident they are prepared for any medical emergencies involving players

Jeff Smith’s phone began to buzz and his thoughts turned Monday night shortly after Buffalo Bills guard Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Smith, senior associate athletic director for sports medicine at North Texas, was spending time with his wife and not watching the game. It took Smith only a few minutes to realize what had happened after his colleagues contacted him and told him about a nightmare scenario for everyone involved in sports medicine.

Since then, Smith has given much thought to the possibility that the athlete could develop life-threatening health problems, a situation for which he has been preparing for years.

Jeff Smith

“You see an event like this and it makes you think,” Smith said. “You think about what we would do in this situation. We are discussing and working through these scenarios to make sure we are in a good place.”

UNT is not alone in this regard. Local high school coaches also thought a lot about how ready they were for the nightmarish scenario of a player experiencing a life-threatening incident during a game or practice.

Smith and Will Rath, an athletic coach at Guyer High School, said they are both pleased with how the UNT and local high schools have prepared for a potentially life-threatening medical emergency like the one that Hamlin suffered.

Hamlin’s condition improved significantly. His breathing tube was removed on Thursday evening and he spoke to family and teammates.

Part of the credit for Hamlin’s survival of the incident goes to the medical professionals who treated him immediately after he was knocked unconscious in a collision on the field.

Both UNT and Denton ISD have detailed plans in case an athlete has a similar life-threatening event.

Will Rath

Will Rath

“This is something we do every year to double check if anything has changed, be it the route an ambulance will take to your school, the process of performing CPR, the use of an AED [automated external defibrillator] or what happens if we need to put someone on a spine board,” Rath said. “We also do helmet and gear removal. That’s what we train before football starts.”

There is a similar practice in UNT. The school sports department is working with Denton Emergency Medical Services and its risk management department to develop a contingency plan that is reviewed annually with local medical staff.

UNT employs 10 certified athletic trainers who are trained in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation. They are also trained to use the AED. UNT uses AEDs in all of its sporting activities outside of training.

Preparation for football matches, where serious injuries are more common, is especially thorough. At the beginning of the season, UNT sends a letter to the opposing teams to detail what the school offers in terms of medical services. The school contacts visiting team officials on the Monday of game week to find out what medical staff they will be bringing in and if a team doctor will be on site.

This information helps UNT staff be prepared in the event of an emergency.

UNT has several doctors on each of their trips as well as at home games. Smith and his staff meet with UNT staff before home games to discuss the contingency plan.

UNT staff also meet with the opposing team’s medical staff to discuss what medical facilities are available in the stadiums, including ambulances and x-ray machines.

“For football games, we have several doctors in various disciplines,” Smith said. “We have a cardiologist and several certified athletic trainers.”

According to Rath, DISD also uses AEDs in all of their games and most of their training sessions. The area also has medical staff at football matches who can quickly assess the condition of an injured player.

DISD has a contingency plan for serious injury. District medical personnel quickly examine the injured player and call medical personnel if necessary.

“They call it CABS—consciousness, airway, respiration, circulation,” Rath said. “If you see how the child moves, you can see that he is conscious. The first thing you need to determine is if the injury is life threatening. If they are not vigilant, you contact EMS [emergency medical services] and proceed with the contingency plan.”

Rath has never faced a situation like Hamlin’s, but this year he had health issues that required an ambulance. An Allen player broke his leg during a football game at the CH Collins Athletic Complex.

Rath used the hand gesture, which is part of DISD’s action plan, to signal for rescue ambulances to enter the field. He also helped treat a cross country runner who suffered heat stroke and called an ambulance.

Many sports coaches and medical staff of UNT and DISD secondary schools prepare for such situations every year.

This training convinced the local medical staff that they were prepared for an emergency such as that faced by Hamlin in Denton.

“These are emergencies that you’re always ready for, but never want to experience,” Smith said. “You have to be prepared in case they do.”

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