Home Scary NFL injury highlights need for CPR, AED training at youth-sports level

Scary NFL injury highlights need for CPR, AED training at youth-sports level

Crystal Graham
youth sport football tackle
(© Actionpics – stock.adobe.com)

Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin remains in critical condition today after collapsing from a likely cardiac arrest on the field Monday night in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

For many people watching on TV, this was the first time they heard the term commotio cordis, a disruption of the heart rhythm that occurs as a result of a blow to the area directly over the heart.

While we haven’t heard for sure this is what happened to Hamlin, most experts agree based on his collapse that this is most likely the diagnosis.

Athletic trainers and medical staff at the game immediately provided CPR to Hamlin, and by all accounts, also used an automated external defibrillator, or AED, which is used to help those experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. The game was ultimately postponed.

Commotio cordis is a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes ages 8 to 18. However, less than 30 cases are reported each year.

Something traumatic like this playing out on national TV certainly leads one to worry about their own son, daughter, niece or nephew.

The NFL clearly had medical staff on site to provide immediate treatment – but what about college sports? Summer leagues? High schools? Youth sports? Even your local Y? Are they prepared for this if it happens? Do they have certified athletic trainers on site for games and practices? Do they have an emergency action plan in place?

Turner Ashby High School athletics trainer Heather Fincham said that while seeing something like this on TV is a shock, high schools like TA, located in Rockingham County, are prepared.

“We have an Emergency Action Plan written and practiced in case something like this happens,” Fincham said. “We always have to be prepared for it.”

Fincham said TA has three AEDs. While she has never used one in an emergency situation, she knows how to operate them.

“We go through it with our coaches every season,” she said.

Fincham was watching the game when Hamlin collapsed. She said commotio cordis was her first guess as to what happened, but she said it could have been other things.

“They’re scary,” she said. “But we are educated about it – how to diagnose it and how to treat it. Now that it’s happened on an NFL game, the world saw it. For athletic trainers, we prepare for it every day.”

“It’s still our worst nightmare,” she said.

Other athletic trainers echoed what Fincham said in now viral social media posts after the incident – highlighting the importance of having trainers at all sporting events. One read: “If handing out water and taping an ankle is all I have to do, that’s a great day.” Another wrote: “I heard sportscasters saying how no one was prepared for this. Well, let me tell you, the athletic trainers are prepared for this.”

Waynesboro Y: ‘Seconds matter’

Waynesboro YMCA Executive Director Jeff Fife was speechless watching the collapse live on TV.

“I’ve been watching sports all my life, and I’ve never seen someone collapse like that on the field,” he said. “The speed in which the trainers and rescue staff assessed the crisis and started life-saving measures was impressive.”

Fife said he hopes that seeing something like this will lead more people to get life-saving CPR and first aid training. Training is available at the Waynesboro Y, as well as through local parks and recreation departments, fire departments and rescue squads.

“He (Hamlin) was surrounded by safety personnel that were yards away when his crisis occurred,” Fife said. “But crisis doesn’t always happen that close to trained professionals and proximity to a hospital. The more people can learn lifesaving skills … the more lives we will be able to save.”

At the Waynesboro Y, all of the department heads, child care and front desk staff are trained in CPR and first aid. Fife said the Y recognizes that in a crisis, seconds matter. He said that a member collapsed in the weight room several years ago, and that the member says he wouldn’t be alive today if not for trained Y staff.

The Waynesboro Y offers CPR/First Aid training with the next class offered on Jan. 27. The Y also offers lifeguard training, which includes how to save someone from drowning.

Quarterback Club: Makes sense to invest in AED

Cory Stringer, president of the Waynesboro Quarterback Club, a member of the Augusta County Quarterback Club, said the youth-football club takes these risks very seriously and have implemented rules to limit serious injuries.

He said that the club will surely “take a much more serious look at precautions to address commotio cordis in the upcoming season” after what happened in the NFL game last night.

The Waynesboro Quarterback Club provides Waynesboro youths the opportunity to learn football and cheering fundamentals, according to the club’s website. The club offers a flag football league and a tackle football league.

Stringer said that the club has CPR-trained individuals on the coaching staff and on the Board of Directors. He said they also have many parents who are medical professionals who help the club.

Stringer said the Waynesboro Quarterback Club does not have an AED device on site for practices and games.

“With what happened last night, it certainly raises the concern about whether we should have one,” said Stringer.

The cost of such a device might have been a deterrent to the organization in the past, but he said they have been successful in raising money for the club in the past few years, and he thinks it would make a lot of sense to invest in a device now.

“I’ve seen lots of scrapes and bruises and some broken bones,“ Stringer said. “But we have been quite lucky over the years to never have an injury that was this serious in nature in our program. I personally have never encountered this issue before.”

Waynesboro Generals: Players are like family

Kathleen Kellett-Ward, the president and co-owner of the Waynesboro Generals, a summer collegiate baseball team in the Valley League, said the players who come to Waynesboro in the summer are like family, and they take good care of them.

Kellett-Ward said that they do have an AED on site for games and practices.

“It’s important for us to be able to respond to as many possible accidental scenarios,” she said. “Our job is to protect and care for our players to the best of our ability.”

She said that in her years with the Waynesboro Generals, she has not had any issues with commotio cordis.

“We all know that freak accidents can happen,” she said. “But as long as we equip ourselves with the professionals and professional equipment, we can have a level of confidence that we are taking our team’s best interests into consideration at all times.”

Ben Hair Just Swim for Life: Safety is primary focus

While something like commotio cordis happens most often in sports like baseball, lacrosse or football, it or another cardiac emergency can happen in any sport.

Ben Hair Just Swim for Life, a nonprofit in Charlottesville, has a mission to raise awareness for water safety and provide affordable learn-to-swim programs.

BHJSL Executive Director C. Eric Lamb said all of their swim coaches are CPR/AED certified, and they make sure at least one certified individual is present at all of their events.

“We never have kids in the water without properly trained folks on site.”

He said all coaches must be recertified every two years.

“It is never an option to have youth swimming happening without a trained lifesaver on site,” Lamb said.

He said a safe facility is always their primary focus, and they require an AED on site to teach at any location.

While he has never dealt specifically with the condition known as commotio cordis, he has been on site when CPR was needed. At a neighborhood pool over the summer, a toddler was in the pool face down before CPR was performed.

“It was a very scary situation,” he said. “Luckily, the child was saved and unharmed and is living a normal life. Injury can happen very easily in any youth sport. Therefore, it is vitally important that all coaches and staff are properly trained in CPR and AED.”


Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.