Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest after a routine tackle on Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins on Jan. 2, 2023. Hamlin initially stood up but immediately collapsed backward, unconscious. He was almost immediately given CPR on the field for roughly 10 minutes as the medical staff used an Automated External Defibrillator to restart his heartbeat. Eventually, medical staff rushed Hamlin to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where Hamlin was later discharged after a week of life-saving care.
Cardiologists think a rare trauma called commotio cordis is the most likely cause of this cardiac arrest. The trauma occurs when an athlete suffers a hard blunt blow just under the rib cage at a specific time in the cardiac cycle.
This injury is more common in other sports such as baseball and lacrosse because the flying ball hitting the chest at the right time could trigger commotio cordis, according to the National Library of Medicine.
Nurse Joan Barada feels dealing with this injury is not one of the school’s top concerns within sports due to the improbability and the safety protocols in place. Menlo has 13 AEDs strategically located in different locations around campus. “Every single AED unit is within a two minute turnaround from the victim – and that’s not running, that’s a fast walk,” Barada said.
Barada also explained Menlo is very prepared to use these AEDs or perform CPR when necessary. “All coaches are CPR certified every year so they’re all up to date,” she said.
Boys Varsity Lacrosse Head Coach Blakely Kim is proud of how the athletic staff is able to deal with a medical emergency. “That’s something I’m really thankful for – our athletic training staff puts every single staff member through the process to not only know CPR, but also our emergency action plan,” Kim said. All staff members go through a 90 minute training session every year where they practice CPR on dummies. Kim pointed out that going through this training gives staff the confidence to perform CPR on a human, if necessary.
Barada also highly recommends students get CPR certified, for the rare case where no adult is around. “I hope that everybody [is] CPR certified, and, if they’re not, talk to one of us about how to go about taking care,” Barada said.
This risk of commotio cordis is heightened in the sport of lacrosse, and Hamlin’s injury put players and coaches on notice. “Occasionally when there is an event in sports like what happened to Damar Hamlin, it brings back memories of incidents in the sport of lacrosse. […] Overall, I’m not too worried about it, especially with the new technology,” Kim said.
Starting on Jan. 1, 2022, the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, which develops and improves protective lacrosse equipment, added a new chest protector to help protect against commotio cordis. The new pads contain a hard plastic shell that sits right over the sternum.
Coach Kim was in favor of his athletes wearing the new pads to protect against cardiac arrest. He explained the new technology can only help lacrosse players feel more protected and secure while playing.
Despite the increased concern arround commotio cordis and cardiac arrest due to Damar Hamlin’s episode, his injury is highly unlikely. Still, Menlo remains prepared with 13 AEDs around campus and staff with CPR qualification.