In 2010, Tommy Adams suddenly collapsed after he was hit in the chest by a baseball pitch. The 16-year-old was reportedly wearing his mask, chest protector and shin guards, but his gear was not enough to save his life. Adams suffered from commotio cordis, an event that occurs after a blow to the chest disrupts the heartbeat and causes cardiac arrest. The phenomenon is extremely deadly, with over two-thirds of reported cases resulting in death.
The danger of commotio cordis is not as well known to parents of youth athletes as concussions. Yet it is the leading cause of fatalities in youth baseball and most common in the nation’s fastest growing sport, lacrosse, according to a study in the September 2009 journal, Pediatrics. While it is more rare than concussion occurrences, it is deadly. In order for commotio cordis to take place, an object must hit directly over the heart at a specific time between beats. The impact de-synchronizes the heart’s rhythm, resulting in a failure to pump blood and, thus, cardiac arrest. It is most common among teenage boys, especially those who play baseball, lacrosse or other contact sports, because of their under-developed thoracic cages.
If commotio cordis does occur, treatment must be quick to be effective. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and precordial thump (a process that aims to realign the heartbeat using repeated blows to the sternum) are commonly used to reverse the fibrillation, but success is rare. The presence of Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) dramatically increases the chance of survival, however a lack of AEDs on-site means an EMS must be called. By the time the paramedics arrive, an average of twelve minutes later, the victim only has a 5 percent chance of surviving due to discontinuation of oxygen to the brain.
Preventative measures may also be taken, such as teaching players how to turn their bodies to deflect an impact from the chest and wearing protective padding like the chest shields traditionally worn by catchers in baseball, but these measures have not been very effective. Deflection is not a guaranteed technique, and some reports have even shown that traditional protective padding offers no defense, and may actually increase the risk of injury by providing a false sense of protection to athletes.
Unable to rely upon this supposedly protective padding, many victims’ families have focused their efforts on standardizing the presence of AEDs at youth athletic events. However, upon hearing of Adams’ tragedy and learning more about commotio cordis, Rob Vito, CEO of Unequal Technologies, hoped to offer a more viable solution. Unequal was already manufacturing chest protectors made from military-grade composites for professional athletes, and Vito saw an opportunity to apply that technology to equipment made for adolescents.
Working with researchers at Tufts University, Vito and his team developed some additional technology with serious protective qualities. In March of 2016 a peer-reviewed study was published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine highlighting Unequal breakthrough developments.
Today, Unequal manufactures several products with HART® (High Acceleration Reduction Technology) protection, including specifically designed gear for baseball and lacrosse, and other sports. Unequal’s HART allows players the mobility they need to perform at their peak level while bringing added protection that is virtually unmatched in the marketplace. “It’s like our competitors are selling 8-tracks and we have MP4s,” Vito explains.
In addition to HART protection, Unequal offers protective supplemental head gear and ultra-light body armor, including insoles, to help protect the rest of the body. Vito believes the application of Unequal’s technologies is limitless, and that his company’s proactive mission to help reduce risk in sports with battle tested technology will continue to revolutionize the sports industry one league, one team, one player at a time.