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  • Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin suffered from a cardiac arrest during a game on Monday night after a tackle. 
  • Hamlin was able to be revived by CPR and a defibrillator while on the field.
  • He is currently in critical condition, according to the team.
  • Cardiac arrest can result from blunt force trauma, such as from a tackle.

Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin suffered from a cardiac arrest during a game on Monday night. 

Hamlin, age 24, was immediately given cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and was hooked up to a defibrillator.  

He was resuscitated on the field, and was taken to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where he was resuscitated for a second time before being put on a ventilator.

The safety remains sedated on a ventilator while his medical team works toward helping him breathe without the device, per an updated Hamlin’s uncle gave to CNN.

Hamlin’s team has released limited information about his condition reporting that he had suffered a cardiac arrest on the field and his heartbeat was restarted before he was taken to a hospital. Currently, Hamlin is in the ICU at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

Dr. Suyog Mokashi, Director of the Aortic Surgery Program at Temple University Hospital and Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, said trauma to the chest such as from a tackle might have contributed to cardiac arrest.

“Blunt chest trauma, as may be seen from the tackle, is associated with rapid deceleration, trauma, or compression injury to the heart. This results in a spectrum ranging from asymptomatic heartbeats to sudden death,” Mokashi told Healthline. 

What causes sudden cardiac arrest? 

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops beating suddenly, says Dr. Rigved Tadwalkar, a board-certified cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.

The most common cause is an electrical malfunction of the heart due to a rapid and irregular heartbeat. 

“As a result of this, the heart cannot pump effectively, and there is a lack of blood flow and oxygen to vital organs, including the brain,” Tadwalker said. 

In Hamlin’s case, the football player had recently made a tackle, which could have caused blunt cardiac trauma. 

According to Tadwalker, Hamlin likely experienced a rare complication called commotio cordis — ventricular fibrillation, a type of cardiac arhythmia, caused by the injury to the chest when he made a tackle. 

“The force of the impact electrically converts the heart into the dangerous heart rhythm,” Tadwalker said. 

A study from 2002 evaluating 128 cases of commotio cordis found that 78% occurred in people under the age of 18 — 62% of whom were playing a competitive sport at the time the attack. 

About 75% of the deaths occurred in people playing baseball, ice hockey, and softball, most of which took place after being struck in the chest by the ball or puck, Mokashi said. 

A traumatic chest injury can also cause cardiac contusion, tears or ruptures of the aorta, or a penetration to the heart.

There are other causes of cardiac arrest include existing structural issues, like congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathies, and electrical system problems, Tadwalker added. 

What to do if you are near someone who goes into cardiac arrest

It’s crucial to immediately contact emergency services so the person can receive prompt medical care. 

They should receive chest compressions, or CPR, as soon as possible, to keep the blood flowing to the body.

Given within the first few minutes, CPR, which may also include rescue breaths, can be life-saving. 

“This consists of using two hands centered on the chest, elbows locked, with the shoulders directly over the hands,” Tadwalker said.

According to Mokashi, 30 compressions and two breaths should be given until an automated external defibrillator (AED), a type of machine that delivers electrical shocks to the heart, can be accessed.

The AED will provide vocal instructions to guide people through the defibrillation process. 

If the patient remains unresponsive, CPR should be resumed, says Tadwalker. 

Here’s what recovery from cardiac arrest is like

If CPR successfully resuscitates a patient, they are typically intubated and put on a ventilator that will provide mechanical breathing. 

They are then treated with medications that help the body continue to function.

Cardiac arrest can contribute to other health conditions that need to be identified and treated — these include brain injury, multi-organ dysfunction, blood loss, clotting disorders, electrolyte issues, trauma, and infections, according to Tadwalker. 

“Due to complex nature of this problem, recovery is often prolonged, lasting days to weeks, and sometimes longer,” Tadwalker said.

In some cases, organ dysfunction — such as anoxic brain injury in which the brain did not receive enough oxygen — can be permanent. 

Some patients can recover without any long-lasting damage.

“In this case, the hope is that Hamlin’s young age makes him more predisposed to a swift and successful recovery,” Tadwalker said.

The bottom line

Buffalo Bills football player Damar Hamlin, age 24, suffered from a cardiac arrest during a game on Monday night. Cardiac arrest is rare in a young, healthy people, however, Hamlin likely experienced a rare complication called commotio cordis in which a blow to the chest throws off the heart’s rhythm. 

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