Medical experts suspect Hamlin suffered Commotio Cordis

It's called Commotio Cordis, a blow to the chest at just the wrong time in the heart's rhythm. Doctors say this case shows the importance of knowing CPR.
Published: Jan. 3, 2023 at 7:09 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 3, 2023 at 9:38 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin remains in critical condition in the intensive care unit at a hospital in Cincinnati after getting up then collapsing on the field following a tackle during Monday Night Football.

“When something happens and, you know, 10 million people are watching it, basically on live national television, it’s tragic, it’s upsetting. And I think it’s appropriate that it’s getting this amount of attention,” ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jen Ashton said.

We don’t know what exactly led to the 24-year-old’s sudden cardiac arrest on the field. At this point, what happened to Hamlin is all speculation, but there is a list that medical professionals are looking through and there’s one diagnosis that many suspect was the cause.

”In this case, from what we do know, the primary reason for that was an arrhythmia. And almost certainly, from what we do know, it’s something called Commotio Cordis, which is when the heart goes into an arrhythmia from a blunt trauma,” said Dr. Armaan Carrigan Shaikh, an interventional cardiologist with Aurora BayCare Cardiology.

Shaik says that trauma has to happen at a very specific time in the heart rhythm.

“There’s a very, very, very short period of time -- in milliseconds -- when if a direct hit to the chest happens, that can cause you to go into ventricular arrhythmia, usually ventricular fibrillation, and that causes the heart to stop and ensuing cardiac arrest,” Dr. Shaikh said.

He said the duration of CPR done on the field was typical of this type of trauma and, for him, rules out an aortic event.

According to the Korey Stringer Institute, which does a lot of research in relation to Commotio Cordis, it is an extremely rare event. Most cases happen during baseball, followed by hockey. The American Heart Association says it happens about 10 times a year.

Dr. Shaikh says the next 24 to 48 hours are crucial as Hamlin likely underwent cooling protocols to reduce inflammation and let him rest.

“When you’re in hypothermia protocol, your body doesn’t have to work as hard in terms of all the things the body does so that he’ll be -- was almost certainly -- cooled, and when you arrive to the hospital that usually lasts for 24 hours. Then there’s a re-warming period which lasts about 12 hours and then they reassess neurologic recovery,” the cardiologist said.

As we patiently wait for an official update on Hamlin, doctors Shaikh and Ashton both say there’s a take-home message here: Time matters when there’s a cardiac arrest.

We all witnessed the quick reaction from medical staff and immediate CPR compressions.

They hope those actions underscore the importance of knowing CPR.

“We can all learn bystander CPR,” Dr. Ashton said. “It is now hands-only, so mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or breathing does not have to occur. In fact, it’s not part of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest protocols, CPR protocols. But the earlier chest compressions are started, the increased chance of survival goes up dramatically.”