Buffalo Bill safety Damar Hamlin’s sudden collapse during a recent football game and his recovery since has left people grateful for the paramedic response.
Marseilles Chief EMS Operations Officer and paramedic Don Modeen said it’s highly unusual for someone with Hamlin’s age and background as a professional athlete to go into cardiac arrest. While an official cause has not yet been disclosed, Modeen and other area paramedics have suggested a phenomenon called commotio cordis as the possible cause.
Commotio cordis is caused by a sudden blow to a specific part of the chest at a critical time in the cardiac cycle, disrupting normal heart rhythm and causing sudden cardiac arrest. It’s a rare diagnosis that occurs fewer than 30 times a year and is more likely to happen in young men while playing sports, according to data from the Cleveland Center, a nonprofit academic research and medical center.
Peru EMS Director and paramedic Brent Hanson also said Hamlin’s hit to the chest could’ve caused an arrhythmia and trauma to the chest, throwing the heart into dysfunction.
NPR and the Wall Street Journal report doctors and other experts following Hamlin’s case have also narrowed the likely cause of his cardiac arrest down to commotio cordis.
Oglesby Paramedic and Firefighter Pete Ragazincky said the diagnosis is more likely to happen in sports like baseball where a player takes a ball to the chest. He said to cause it, the hit must happens “between certain points in the heartbeat, and it’s got to be just exact.”
Modeem said the concern about cardiac arrest happening to young people playing sports in the Illinois Valley is not a new one. He said the risk, while rare, is real and many youth sports leagues in Ottawa, Marseilles and the surrounding areas have had children wear a chest protector to help prevent it.
“When somebody gets hit in the chest at a certain time during the cardiac cycle, it can shut the heart down,” Modeem said. “Knowing this, the youth sports leagues started having kids wear these chest protectors to try to prevent that from happening. They are already trying to keep this from happening to the youth.”
Ragazincky said Hamlin’s cardiac arrest and the following paramedic response is a good reminder about the importance of recognizing a medical emergency and the value of being trained in CPR. He and some of his colleagues at the Oglesby fire department are CPR instructors and encourage everyone to learn the basics.
“I’d rather have somebody learn rather than have something happen and them not know what to do,” Ragazincky said.
Modeen said it’s important as many people as possible can be trained in CPR. He said businesses can take staff through training programs and be up to speed on education and recognition. He said anyone can become CPR certified through classes, where he said people can practice compression techniques and be introduced to an AED.
“You’re actually trained (in a CPR class) to react more than you are to think,” Modeen said. “If you see someone go down and you confirm it’s cardiac arrest, you’re supposed to go into machine mode and just start pumping on the chest.”
Hanson said any CPR is good CPR. He said even if someone has no training and doesn’t know if a person in crisis needs it, do it anyway. It likely won’t hurt them, and hand compressions on the chest alone can save a life.
“It makes all the difference in the world. As paramedics, we can do everything the staff at an emergency department does. We inundate people, we start IVs, we’ll give medications to artificially restart the heart,” Modeen said. “But none of that matters unless we’ve got somebody pushing on that chest and circulating the blood and keeping those organs vital by providing fresh, oxygenated blood to the rest of the body.”
Ragazincky reminds people always to call 911 as soon as possible in a medical emergency. CPR classes are available through All Risk Training and Safety in Spring Valley by calling 815-343-3163 or through some local EMS organizations. The American Heart Association also offers online CPR and first aid training at cpr.heart.org/en.