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  • Writer's pictureELLIE DEBRUNNER '23

Damar Hamlin Wins the Game of Life

While we all know what happened to Damar Hamlin last month at Paycor Stadium, it is still relevant to the sport and medicine world, along with the city of Cincinnati. Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after making a tackle on Tee Higgins during a week 17 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. He regained a pulse after members of a medical staff administered CPR for nine minutes and gave him an automated external defibrillator. This series of events ultimately led to the game being canceled but it did not stop the outpouring of support and concern for Damar. A week later Damar was released from the UC medical center and two days after that he was released from a Buffalo hospital. His GoFundMe page blew up after he collapsed and he ended up raising over nine million dollars. While this was initially a toy drive fundraiser, he plans on using a lot of that money to now also support young people through education and sports and to give back to the trauma center in Cincinnati that helped him recover.

So what really caused his cardiac arrest? Well, the culprit is known as commotio cordis, which can happen when a drastic hit to the chest causes the heartbeat to convulse, leading to sudden cardiac arrest. But this only happens in a rare set of circumstances: when an impactful hit lands directly over the heart at the wrong place and wrong time during that heart’s rhythm cycle.

What happened to Damar made many people realize that that could have been them. The CDC stated that “2,000 people under the age of 25 die each year due to sudden cardiac arrest.” Damar’s injury has resumed conversations nationally about the importance of having certified athletic trainers and defibrillators on hand. Not only did this made everyone realize that it could have been them, but it also was a wake-up call to viewers regarding the “violence” of contact sports. According to Brian Turner, a Xavier University of Louisiana psychologist and former college football player, “it’s something that could have occurred to anyone on the field.”

What is happening currently to help prevent this from happening again? The American Heart Association is working with Damar Hamlin, who organized his #3forHeart CPR challenge. This is a social media initiative that encourages people to learn CPR, donate money to CPR research, education and training, and to share the word with others in their communities. Meanwhile, The NFL is raising money to support CPR education and youth sports safety efforts across the country throughout the month of February. The NFL also offered CPR training throughout Super Bowl week, which is provided by the American Heart Association. People who visited this area during the NFL experience at the Phoenix Convention Center would have received hands-only CPR training from experts and receive information to be shared in their communities.

As for the long game of safety in football, who knows when NFL will place new regulations. Usually new regulations that make this sport safer means that there will be backlash from a lot of fans. The fans that may be upset about it are the same fans that watch football for the collisions of bodies and NASCAR for the collisions of cars. Many viewers watch players get carted off the field and move on, but this time it was different. Everyone watched a man have a heart attack in public and there was no looking away.

Another reason why I don’t think they will do much is because despite all the money they have they still have not come up with improvements for other serious injuries like concussions and CTE, a neurodegenerative disease found in people who have undergone recurrent head trauma. Yes, the NFL, does bring more awareness to the issue but they don’t actually change much to make the game safer for players. Obviously heart issues are a little harder to avoid than a concussion because it does not happen often on a large stage like the NFL.

No matter how many pads and plates are used to protect the chest area football is more of a collision sport. In other words, what happened to Damar could still happen because his incident was based on timing and force of impact not because of lack of protection. No one can avoid commotio cordis because if impact hits at just the right moment it could be game over in seconds. This is not an injury like a concussion. Yes, it is just as serious as any other injury, but a concussion is solely based on one factor, which is the force of impact. Concussions can be fixed with safer helmets or maybe no helmets at all because if you take away the helmets people are more likely to be more careful. Heart issues are not so easy to fix; the best shot at lessening the risk is to make it flag football and not actual football but people are drawn to the violence that is seen in football.

Overall, Damar Hamlin’s tragic cardiac incident did have many positives. For one, he is still alive, which is a gift in itself. He brought more awareness to the importance of personal health and more importantly heart health. Many schools, college and high school, are now putting more injury regulations in place for anyone playing sports. This sequence of events also reminded people that football players are people too and that some things are greater than football. His incident brought the whole country together, many donated to his toy drive, some prayed for the first time after witnessing this, but everyone came together in support no matter the difference in the person. He showed Americans that life is precious and it can be cut off at any moment so hold the people close to you a little closer, say I love you because you never know when that could be the last time you see that person, and live your life to the fullest. Damar put it best: “If you get a chance to show some love today, do it! It won’t cost you nothing.”

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