Following Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest attention shifts to chest pads and young athletes

Following Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest attention shifts to chest pads and young athletes

Kody Moffatt, a sports medicine specialist knows the terror that young athletes have felt after seeing Damar Hamlin go into cardiac arrest while watching “Monday Night Football”.

Moffatt is the division chief for sports medicine at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, Omaha. “Almost all families that I’ve seen since Tuesday morning have asked about it,” he said. They were concerned about the impact on their chests.”

These life-threatening injuries are rare and, although it appears the Buffalo Bills safety has recovered, the incident served as a reminder about how fast injuries can occur.

The University of Cincinnati Medical Center doctors have not yet revealed the cause of Hamlin’s sudden loss of cardiac function. However, they did give a briefing on Thursday that didn’t exclude a phenomenon known as commotio cordis.

Commotio cordis is when a projectile, such as a ball or hockey puck, collides with the chest of an individual, throwing off their electrical system. A person is put into potentially fatal cardiac arrest.

Experts say that immediate CPR and an automatic external defibrillator are crucial in any emergency.

Dr. William Roberts from the University of Minnesota, who is a specialist in sports medicine, said that “the rapid response saved this player’s lives.”

Commotio Cordis is only a handful of times per year In the U.S., could chest protectors help to prevent this problem? Are they worth the extra $100 for pads?

Karen Acompora (board chair of Parent Heart Watch), a parent advocacy group for better cardiac protections for youth athletes, said, “When it is your child, it’s not uncommon.”

Louis Acompora, age 14, died after he was struck with a stick during a game of lacrosse.
Louis Acompora, age 14, died after he was struck with a stick during a game of lacrosse.Courtesy Karen Acompora

Louis Acompora was playing lacrosse on Long Island with his high school team in 2000. A blow to the chest caused commotio chordis. Although CPR was performed, there weren’t any AEDs available.

Louis, then only 14, died when he was just 14 years old. Since then, his mother has always advocated for youth sports chest protection.

Acompora stated that “I don’t get why youth sports don’t leap all over safety before there is a problem.”

The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment developed standards for chest protectors in 2019.

USA Lacrosse required that youth players of lacrosse wear chest protection by 2022.

Although doctors aren’t certain whether Hamlin was actually commotio coris, Acompora is happy to see this condition being brought up in the national spotlight.

“I hope people with this new incident will see the light and realize that maybe they need to take action.”

Many opinions exist about the importance of chest protection for youth sport.

According to a 2017 Tufts Medical Centre study, chest protectors with Kevlar may be effective at preventing commotio cordis.

Stephens was not involved with the Tufts research. He explained that Kevlar spreads the impact’s energy, instead of allowing the projectiles to concentrate all their force on a single spot.

However, the research was done with pigs and not people. According to Dr. Matthew Silvis of Penn State Health, there is not sufficient scientific support for chest protectors being used in youth sports.

Silvis was worried that the chest protector might give her a false sense security.

Silvis stated, “What you don’t want is for someone wearing a chest protector and to think that I am protected from this injury. Now I can be a bit more reckless.”

Before Monday’s NFL game Dr. Chad Stephens was a private practitioner near Dallas who is an interventional pain specialist and sports medicine specialist. He had only recommended chest pads for high-school sports like lacrosse and baseball, where commotio coris is much more prevalent.

Since Monday's cardiac arrest, chest protectors like this Unequal Technologies one have been highly in demand.
Since Monday’s cardiac arrest, chest protectors like this Unequal Technologies one have been highly in demand.Courtesy Unequal Technologies

Stephens stated that he was not a proponent of players having a chest pad to use in non-projectile sports. Stephens said, “I was not as convinced that something similar could happen in football.” It is forcing me to reexamine my entire stance.”

Rob Vito is the founder and chief executive officer of Unequal Technologies. He said that his cell phone has been constantly ringing with calls from parents, coaches and players.

This company produces chest pads made from Kevlar. It is the same material that bulletproof vests are made of.

Vito stated, “We are getting calls from baseball dads and soccer moms.” Every sport is reaching out.”

Is it possible to prevent commotio coris?

Penn State Health’s Silvis suggests that coaches teach young hockey players the proper techniques to use when confronted with a ball or puck.

These cases require players to learn how to move their bodies to the sides, in order to avoid a collision with the chest.

Roberts from the University of Minnesota says that the best way to prevent children from suffering cardiac arrest is for coaches to teach CPR and have access to AEDs quickly.

Roberts is an affiliate of the National Academy of Sports Medicine. He said, “If you look at the risk of adding a breastplate, compared with the risk of training everyone in hands-only CPR, having an AED at each site, it would fall heavily upon CPR and AEDs for lives saved.”

Instead of parents purchasing a chest protector for their children, Silvis asked “How can we ensure that our coaches are CPR-trained?” Silvis was curious.

AEDs were widely accepted as necessary for all sports events, not just for the players, but for parents and grandparents, coaches, spectators, and other people watching.

Moffatt stated that although there is no data to show chest protectors protect against commotio coris, it may be worth considering for young athletes who play in sports like baseball, lacrosse, and hockey.

Moffatt stated that “there’s very little harm” and could offer significant benefits. As a father and a doctor I want to help my children.”

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