Cardiologist explains what likely happened to Damar Hamlin after collapse on field

Many watched in shock as Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field during Monday Night Football, wondering what could have possibly happened.

WTOP spoke with a D.C.-area sports cardiologist about what may have happened to the Buffalo Bills safety.

Dr. Scott Jerome, co-director of sports cardiology at the University of Maryland, clarified that since he had not actually treated the patient, he can only surmise what happened — but believes it is likely Commotio Cordis.

“It is very rare,” said Jerome. “This occurs when you get a hit to the chest, during what we call a vulnerable period in the heart cycle. Between heartbeats, there’s a tiny 20 milliseconds … a really short period of time where the whole heart is vulnerable to heart rhythms. So it gets a hit to the chest, and that causes the heart to go out of rhythm and basically stop.”

This lines up with Hamlin’s tackle on Cincinnati Bengal’s wide receiver Tee Higgins. Higgins’ shoulder connected with Hamlin’s chest as he was wrapped up.

Though it is a rare condition overall and one even rarer in adult athletes, it is more often seen in children. Jerome points to adults having bulkier frames and more muscle mass around the chest as protection.

“We’ve seen this usually in younger people, little leaguers that get hit with a baseball, hockey puck. Lacrosse players, they get a shot, it just happens to be the right timing, the right amount of pressure at the right spot,” said Jerome.

All in all, he said there are only about 200 to 300 documented cases in total, though that may be under-reported.

While a scary sight, Jerome thought on-site medical staff treated the cardiac arrest well by providing immediate CPR and defibrillation. Because of that, he is optimistic for Hamlin’s outlook.

“The prognosis, many times, it’s very good. In this particular case, they brought him to the hospital. They intubated him. They probably sedated and cooled him,” said Jerome.

“All the things to protect the brain, and then they’ll probably make sure all the heart stuff is OK and bring him out, and hopefully he’ll do fine.”

As of Tuesday morning, Hamlin is still listed in critical condition.

Luke Lukert

Since joining WTOP Luke Lukert has held just about every job in the newsroom from producer to web writer and now he works as a full-time reporter. He is an avid fan of UGA football. Go Dawgs!

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