Quick action key in saving lives following cardiac arrest

Research shows compression-only CPR can double or triple a person’s chances of survival if they go into cardiac arrest.
Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 9:18 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Exactly why Buffalo Bills’ player Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest isn’t yet confirmed, but many health experts suspect it could have been a rare event known as commotio cortis.

Commotio cordis is a disruption in the heart rhythm triggered by a hit to the chest. Dr. Steve Seals, a cardiologist at Cotton O’Neil Heart Center in Topeka, said the suddenness in which Hamlin fell to the ground after initially getting up was concerning.

“If the heart beat is at the right portion of its cardiac cycle, it’s kind of susceptible to irritation that will all of a sudden trigger a fast, irregular, life-threatening rhythm where the lower chamber instead of all the cells beating together, all the cells just start what we call fibrillating and then all of a sudden the heart is not pumping any blood and people collapse and have cardiac arrest,” Seals explained.

Dr. Seals stresses he is not involved in Hamlin’s care, and doctors likely will thoroughly evaluate whether the 24-year old had any undiagnosed heart issues. Dr. Seals says cardiac arrest can have many causes, which is why it’s important for everyone to know CPR. Research shows compression-only CPR can double or triple a person’s chances of survival.

“You’re manually trying to squeeze the blood from the legs back into the heart and then squeeze it back out to get to those vital organs,” Dr. Seals said. “Giving good chest compressions helps get some circulation to the brain and gives you more time until you can finally restore the normal rhythm.”

Restoring heart rhythm usually requires a shock from an external defibrillator. Dr. Seals says having AEDs in as many places as possible is a plus.

As for concerns about why Hamlin spent several days sedated, Dr. Seals says that’s not unusual.

“Some people will wake right up, but if they’ve had a fairly prolonged episode of CPR it takes a while for the brain a to recover from that,” he said. “You want to make sure the rest of the body is stable and they’re not developing any other medical problems.”

The U.S. has fewer than 20 commotio cordis cases a year. It’s more typically heard of it in baseball.

The American Heart Association offers many resources for learning CPR. You can view a training video here. They also posted a training video in Spanish here. Find other resources about CPR by clicking here.