NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reminded us of the nation’s riveted spirit during Super Bowl week as Damar Hamlin lay motionless on the field and his heart stopped. Luckily they got it working again and he survived. I remember in my early years as a sports agent that two of my potential NBA clients were Hank Gathers and his teammate Bo Kimble, basketball stars from Loyola Marymount University. I continued to represent Kimble in his NBA career, but unfortunately on March 4thth In 1990, Hank Gathers collapsed on his home court with his mother in the stands while playing in a game against Portland University. It is unclear if CPR was performed, but it is absolutely certain that an automated external defibrillator (AED) was not on hand. The heart of Gathers stopped and never started again; He was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.
The nation was in shock.
When the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during their game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Bengal medical team was prepared. Her prompt response and administration of CPR and an automated external defibrillator (AED) got Damar’s heart pumping again and began the emergency medical treatment that was responsible for saving his life. Damar was discharged from the hospital and returned home seemingly on the road to a full recovery.
The nation was overjoyed.
These two drastically different preparedness situations illustrate the importance of immediate response and training to save lives in the event of a cardiac arrest. While not every high school, college, and recreational facility has the resources of the NFL, there are important steps anyone can take to save lives during such cardiac arrest situations.
Although Damar Hamlin’s episode occurred while playing football, it was not the result of an extraordinary condition, but was likely the result of an undetected heart condition induced by certain strenuous activities. These types of incidents can occur during recreational activities inside or outside of a formal training facility.
According to the American Heart Association, more than 350,000 people in the United States experience an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year. And many of these events take place while people are exercising: A 2013 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology noticed, that Of 849 indoor sudden cardiac arrest events reported in and around Seattle over a 12-year period, 136 (or approximately 16%) occurred in either traditional or non-traditional training facilities.
But this study also found that people who suffered cardiac arrest in traditional training facilities had a 56% survival rate, compared to just 45% for people who stayed in non-traditional training facilities (like community centers, church gyms, and dance studios). and 34% for those in other public spaces (like a mall or an airport). This is likely because AEDs are more common and accessible in training facilities.
While approximately 84% of cardiac arrests occur in unexpected places during exercise, it is possible to save lives by acting quickly and decisively, and acting based on proper training.
I spoke about it with Dr. Mariell Jessup, Chief Science and Medical Officer of the American Heart Association
By following these few simple steps, anyone can potentially save a life during a cardiac emergency. CPR involves compressions on the chest to get the blood circulating and starting breathing to oxygenate the blood.
These simple techniques can be used both on and off the field of athletic competition. Cardiac arrest can happen anytime, anywhere, and CPR training can save lives in both situations. Damar Hamlin has raised awareness of the importance of performing CPR in these life and death situations and this will encourage more people both in and out of sport to take up this valuable training.
To close that circle, Gathers teammate Bo Kimble has devoted much of his life to making sure AEDs are distributed as widely as possible across the country in honor of his fallen ex-teammate. As the NFL demonstrated with Damar Hamlin, with increased CPR training and access to AEDs, this becomes a truly powerful force in saving lives.