Local doctor, school trainer discuss cardiac arrest in athletes

Dr. James Willis
Dr. James Willis(WWNY)
Published: Jan. 3, 2023 at 4:40 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - It was a scary scene at Monday night’s Buffalo Bills game after safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field and needed to have his heart restarted.

A local cardiologist says this type of injury is uncommon, even in a high-contact sport.

“If your chest gets impacted hard enough, it can throw your heart rhythm out of sync,” said Dr. James Willis, cardiologist, Cardiology Associates of Northern New York. “Within ten seconds you might be able to stand up and recognize something is wrong, but you collapse.”

Hamlin remains in critical condition at a Cincinnati hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest following a first-quarter tackle.

The 24-year-old Hamlin was administered CPR on the field before being taken away in an ambulance - more than 16 minutes after he collapsed.

“Every second counts. If you have that sort of lull, if you don’t get there fast enough, it gets harder and harder to resuscitate,” said Dr. Willis.

While football is certainly a strenuous contact sport, Dr. Willis says it “is one of the safer ones. One in 35,000.”

In other words, for every 35,000 cases of injury to the chest in football, one results in cardiac arrest.

He means one in 35,000 cases of this particular injury happens in football yearly.

In baseball, it can happen in one in 20,000 cases.

Basketball, which is defined as a non-contact sport, sees it happen once in 8,000 cases.

Even with low case numbers, a scene like this hits home for athletic trainers like Rob Brookes at Indian River Central School.

“It’s always on your mind. I mean always. You always worry about ‘what ifs’. What if something happens, a cardiac event happens on the field,” he said.

Brookes adds that the school has a plan ready to be put into action if this sort of medical emergency happens at a home game and that plan is in the hands of the ambulance crew on the sidelines.