After Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, attention turns to chest pads for young athletes

Sports medicine specialist Dr. Kody Moffatt knows how seeing Damar Hamlin collapse in cardiac arrest on “Monday Night Football” has frightened parents of young athletes.

“Almost every family that I’ve seen in clinic since Tuesday morning has asked about this,” said Moffatt, division chief of sports medicine at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. “They were worried about chest impacts.”

Such life-threatening injuries are extremely rare, and though it now appears that the 24-year-old Buffalo Bills safety is recovering, the incident was a gut punch reminder of how quickly injuries can happen.

Doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center haven’t announced what exactly caused Hamlin’s cardiac arrest — the sudden loss of heart function — but during a news briefing Thursday they didn’t rule out a phenomenon called commotio cordis.

Commotio cordis happens when a projectile — often a hockey puck or a baseball, for example — collides with a person’s chest, throwing the heart’s electrical system out of whack. The person goes into potentially deadly cardiac arrest.

Immediate CPR and an automated external defibrillator (AED) are critical in the moments that follow, and that is how Damar Hamlin survived, experts said.

“The rapid response is what saved this player’s life,” said Dr. William Roberts, a sports medicine specialist at the University of Minnesota.

Commotio cordis occurs less than a few dozen times a year in the U.S. Could chest protectors prevent the problem? With the pads costing up to $100 or more, are they worth it?

“When it’s your child, it’s not rare,” said Karen Acompora, board chair for Parent Heart Watch, a group that advocates for greater cardiac protections in youth sports.


Jan. 7, 2023
By Erika Edwards


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