Research In Action

Research In Action

The Shocking Truth: Be Prepared for Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Emergencies at Youth Sporting Events
January 6, 2023

Many of us witnessed the sudden shocking collapse of an NFL football player, Damar Hamlin, 24, on Monday after he was hit hard in the center of his chest during a routine tackle. He first appeared “stunned” and then suddenly collapsed. This scenario is classic for trauma-induced sudden cardiac death. Experts credit the trained certified athletic trainers and other first responders who recognized this as cardiac arrest and took immediate life-saving actions: cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use of an AED (Automated External Defibrillator).

These three actions are lifesaving skills that any student, family member or first responder can do at any sports event:

  1. Recognition of sudden cardiac arrest
  2. Immediately starting chest compressions
  3. Rapidly applying an automated external defibrillator (AED)

While sudden cardiac arrest is pretty uncommon in young people, it DOES happen--whether in gym class or under the Friday night lights of a football game in any community. It is critical for all youth sports organizations and schools to know how to recognize such a life-threatening emergency and have a well-rehearsed Emergency Response Plan in place. It only takes a few minutes to learn the simple skills of sudden cardiac arrest recognition, how to call 911, start CPR, and apply a lifesaving AED.

Schools and youth athletic and other community programs need to place a high value on developing and practicing an emergency response plan, but the truth is that ANY layperson can save a life by learning and following these 3 simple steps. Certified athletic trainers and personnel trained in CPR equipped with an AED (automated external defibrillator) at games, practices and other youth events can serve as the “boots on the ground” and keep a cool head during the uncommon but life-threatening emergencies. These individuals can also help to train others. A well-designed and practiced emergency response plan with drills can double to quadruple the chances of saving a young life in the critical minutes after a sudden cardiac arrest.

Anyone can apply these life-saving steps and be aware of warning signs and symptoms if they are present for any cardiac arrest whether it occurs at home or in a school or other community setting. While exercise can be a trigger for sudden cardiac arrest, it can occur in previously healthy youth from many underlying cardiac causes that may be silent until the event occurs, even if they are not exercising and not experiencing chest trauma. 

What Is Trauma-induced Sudden Cardiac Arrest (Commotio Cordis)?

Damar Hamlin may have experienced trauma-induced sudden cardiac arrest which doctors call “Commotio Cordis.” This condition is caused by a violent blow to the center of the chest at a particular moment during the cardiac cycle, which unfortunately stuns the heart and causes it to stop pumping and “fibrillate” (quiver). It can happen in kids with completely normal hearts. Commotio cordis is more common in sports with objects that are thrown or hit at high velocity (e.g., baseball, ice hockey and lacrosse) or those that involve a blow or direct hit to the chest (e.g., football and rugby). The first responders with a practiced emergency response plan rapidly recognized the emergency, started CPR, and used an AED to deliver a lifesaving “defibrillating” shock that restored Damar’s heartbeat, and brought him back to life.

Trusted Resources Are Available to You

  • CHOP Youth Heart Watch ProgramAs an affiliate of Project ADAM®, this program offers an emergency care plan and sudden cardiac death prevention program for schools, youth sport and community programs in the Philadelphia and surrounding tri-state region. The program also includes assessment and development of an emergency response plan, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and AED use training, sudden cardiac arrest drills, and coordination with local EMS. By completing these simple steps, school and community groups can also qualify to receive a Heart Safe Designation from Youth Heart Watch, an affiliate of Project ADAM®.
  • Academy for Resuscitation of Children: CHOP’s pioneering cardiac arrest and resuscitation science training and implementation science center is dedicated exclusively to children.
  • Center for Injury Research and Prevention: This CHOP Research Institute Center of Emphasis pursues innovative solutions to prevent injury in children, adolescents, and young adults with rigorous multidisciplinary research, including a hospital-based Pediatric Engineering team.
  • Global Resuscitation Alliance: This innovative alliance's mission is to advance successful resuscitation by accelerating community implementation of effective and measurable programs.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics website describes causes of sudden cardiac arrest in young people, warning signs, prevention, and screening recommendations.
  • Preparing for Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Schools: describes the essential role of AEDs.
  • AAP Policy Statement on Sudden Death in the Young: Information for the Primary Care Provider: The purpose of this article is to provide primary care providers with a strategy for screening, evaluation, and management of risk of sudden death in the young with practical and updated information.