Thank you, Katie Thom, Region SVP, Development and Community Health, from the American Heart Association, for this information! Like many of you, I was watching last night’s NFL game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills. Late in the first quarter, 24-year-old, Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed after making a tackle. Medical staff rushed on the field and began performing CPR on Damar. EMS arrived and they continued performing CPR and Damar was transported to UC-Health, a Level-1 trauma center. The latest news reports indicate that Damar is in critical condition.

While our prayers go out to Damar Hamlin, his family and all Bills fans, I thought you may want to be prepared with additional information on CPR, cardiac arrest, and Commotio cordis, which is a lethal disruption of heart rhythm that occurs as a result of a blow to the area directly over the heart at a critical time during the cycle of a heartbeat. Please see the information below.

What is cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is caused when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions. The heart stops beating properly. The heart’s pumping function is “arrested,” or stopped. In cardiac arrest, death can result quickly if proper steps aren’t taken immediately. Cardiac arrest may be reversed if CPR is performed and a defibrillator shocks the heart and restores a normal heart rhythm within a few minutes. It can come on suddenly or in the wake of other symptoms. Cardiac arrest is often fatal if appropriate steps aren’t taken immediately. More than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside a hospital in the U.S. each year.

What are the causes of cardiac arrest?

  • Cardiac arrest may be caused by almost any known heart condition.
  • Most cardiac arrests occur when a diseased heart’s electrical system malfunctions. This malfunction causes an abnormal heart rhythm such as ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation. Some cardiac arrests are also caused by extreme slowing of the heart’s rhythm (bradycardia).
  • Irregular heartbeats such as these are life threatening.
  • When a person has a cardiac arrest, survival depends on immediately receiving CPR from someone nearby. According to the American Heart Association, about 90 percent of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die. CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival. Yet, bystanders only perform CPR 46% of the time.
  • While medical staff on site rushed to Hamilin on the field, for the general public the two steps of Hands-Only CPR are to call 911 and push hard and fast in the center of the chest. Use a familiar song to help you keep up the pace of 100-120 beats per minute. Watch our Hands-Only CPR instructional video.

Is a heart attack the same as cardiac arrest?

No. The term “heart attack” is often mistakenly used to describe cardiac arrest. While a heart
attack may cause cardiac arrest, the two aren’t the same.

Another emergency where CPR and/or AED’s might be used is Commotio cordis, or the lethal disruption of heart rhythm that occurs as a result of a blow to the area directly over the heart at a critical time during the cycle of a heartbeat. While rare, this is a condition that could affect anyone playing a contact sport. Commotio cordis occurs mostly in boys and young men (average age 15), usually during sports, often despite a chest protector. Being less developed, the thorax of an adolescent is likely more prone to this injury given the circumstances.

Automated external defibrillators have helped increase the survival rate to 35%.[1] Defibrillation must be started as soon as possible (within 3 minutes) for maximal benefit. Commotio cordis is the leading cause of fatalities in youth baseball in the US, with two to three deaths per year.[10] It has been recommended that “communities and school districts reexamine the need for accessible automatic defibrillators and cardiopulmonary resuscitation-trained coaches at organized sporting events for children.”
Source: Commotio cordis: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology. Circulation.