< Football Player’s Cardiac Arrest: ‘A Teachable Moment’
By Hai Do
04 January 2023

Damar Hamlin, a player for the professional football team from Buffalo, New York, suffered a cardiac arrest during a game seen on national television Monday night.

Health website Hopkins Medicine says a cardiac arrest is when the heart stops beating. This stops blood flow to the brain and other organs. Cardiac arrest can cause a person to lose consciousness, become disabled, or die if they are not treated immediately.

The Buffalo Bills football team said in a statement, "Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in our game versus the Bengals. His heartbeat was restored on the field..." The team added, "He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition."

Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin (3) lies on the ground after making a tackle on Cincinnati Bengals player Tee Higgins. After getting up from the play, Hamlin collapsed and was administered CPR on the field. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)
Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin (3) lies on the ground after making a tackle on Cincinnati Bengals player Tee Higgins. After getting up from the play, Hamlin collapsed and was administered CPR on the field. (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)

The incident happened in a big Monday night game between the Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals. After stopping a Bengals player, Hamlin stood up and quickly collapsed on the field.

Medical workers then performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, an emergency measure, to restart his heartbeat on the field.

Players from both teams cried and prayed while Hamlin was receiving treatment. He was then taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The National Football League suspended the game.

What happened to Hamlin?

Hamlin was hurt while stopping, or tackling, Bengals player Tee Higgins in a play that did not appear unusually violent.

Higgins was running after catching a pass when his right shoulder hit Hamlin in the chest. Hamlin tackled Higgins bringing him down. Hamlin then quickly stood up after the play and even adjusted his helmet before collapsing.

Heart experts say it is too soon to know what caused Hamlin's heart attack. But they say a rare condition called commotio cordis is among the possible reasons. Commotio cordis happens when a severe blow to the chest causes the heart to shake, leading to sudden cardiac arrest.

Dr. Rod Passman is director of the Center for Arrhythmia Research at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine. He told the Associated Press that this condition rarely happens. For example, it could happen when a sharp hit directly over the heart takes place at the wrong time during the heart's normal beating activity.

Commotio cordis happens "probably 20 times a year," and about 60 percent of those affected survive, said heart specialist Dr. Mark Link of UT Southwestern Medical Center in Texas.

Dr. Aman Chugh is a University of Michigan cardiology professor. He noted that hard tackles are extremely common in football and that commotio cordis is extremely rare.

Link said the main danger for survivors is brain damage from lack of oxygen when the heart stops pumping blood. Doctors can reduce that risk with deep sedation to give the brain a rest, he said.

Dr. Mariell Jessup is the chief medical officer for the American Heart Association. She said heart disease that already exists is the most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest. But Hamlin's medical history has not been made public.

Jessup said it is "not uncommon" for an athlete to have a heart condition that doctors did not find. This can even happen to young players.

The American Heart Association says more than 365,000 people in the United States have sudden cardiac arrests outside of hospitals each year. Their survival depends on quick CPR and electric shock to bring the heartbeat back to normal, as reportedly happened with Hamlin.

"The teachable moment is learn CPR," Jessup said.

Who is Hamlin?

Hamlin came to the Buffalo Bills in 2021 after playing college football for the University of Pittsburgh. He became a starting player this season after another player was injured.

In 2020, Hamlin began organizing a yearly Christmas toy donation campaign in his hometown of McKees Rocks in the state of Pennsylvania. His goal was to get $2,500 for the effort. By early Wednesday, people had donated more than $6.3 million for the toy donation campaign.

Rodger Saffold wrote about his teammate on Twitter. He described Hamlin as a "kind, caring, extremely hard worker." Saffold wrote that Hamlin is "loyal, honest and can always put a smile on your face. He is more than an athlete, he is a son and brother."

J.J. Watt is a defensive player for the Arizona Cardinals. He wrote following the incident, "The game is not important. Damar Hamlin's life is important. Please be ok."

I'm Caty Weaver.

Rob Maaddi reported this report for the Associated Press. Hai Do adapted it for VOA Learning English with additional information.


Words in This Story

sedated –adj. given drugs to cause deep sleep to avoid activity or excitement

critical –adj. (medical) involving great danger of death

adjust –v. to move something to its correct position

helmet –n. a hard hat used in sports that protects the head from injury

athlete –n. a person who is trained in or expert at sports

teachable moment –idiom an incident from which a lesson can be learned

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