When Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills went into cardiac arrest on Jan 2, 2023 it stunned the world, and it brought defibrillation and the incredible effectiveness of AED’s into the spotlight. Since then, attention on AED’s has faded, but their importance is no less relevant. The bottom line is, heart disease is the worlds leading killer, and by no small margins. About 6,000 people die from heart disease every day, and the best immediate response is usually an AED.
Hamlin did not go into cardiac arrest as a result of heart disease. The irony of this event was that while ischaemic heart disease accounts for roughly 9 million deaths per year, this isn’t what catches public attention. No, it’s a single football player suffering a highly unusual medical occurrence that catches our eyes.
It may be impossible to say for sure, but it appears that Damar Hamlin experienced what is known as Commotio cordis. Commotio cordis is a rare but potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when a sudden blow or impact to the chest results in the disruption of the heart’s electrical system. The term “commotio cordis” is Latin for “agitation of the heart.”
During a commotio cordis event, the impact to the chest occurs at a specific moment during the heart’s electrical cycle, usually during the repolarization phase. This impact can cause an abnormal and potentially fatal heart rhythm disturbance known as ventricular fibrillation, and this is what appears to have happened when Tee Higgins’ (Bengals wide receiver) shoulder perfectly struck Hamlin in the center of his chest.
The aforementioned Ventricular fibrillation is a chaotic and disorganized electrical activity in the heart, preventing it from effectively pumping blood to the rest of the body. Without immediate medical intervention, such as defibrillation (an electric shock to the heart which essentially reboots the hearts electrical rhythm), commotio cordis can rapidly lead to loss of consciousness, cardiac arrest, and even death.
Commotio cordis typically occurs during sports activities, particularly those involving high-velocity projectiles, such as baseballs, hockey pucks, or lacrosse balls. The condition is more likely to affect young individuals, typically children and adolescents, due to their developing chest wall and thinner chest wall protection compared to adults, but professional football players, pack quite a punch.
Again, commotio cordis is rare and prevention generally involves promoting chest protection through the use of appropriate equipment, such as chest protectors or padding, especially in sports with a high risk of chest impacts. Additionally, raising awareness about the condition among athletes, coaches, and parents is crucial to emphasize the importance of prompt recognition and seeking medical assistance in case of chest trauma.
Commotio cordis is an unlikely occurrence, but it highlights the importance of being prepared for emergencies in sporting activities and taking appropriate measures to ensure the safety of participants, particularly by using protective equipment and receiving training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) use.
Obviously, we offer CPR training, mostly in the Bay Area, but also throughout the United States via our network of instructors. Feel free to reach out to us, or to view our public schedule of CPR classes. We also sell AED’s should you be interested in one for you home and/or office.