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People write well wishes for Danish player Christian Eriksen on a wall at the fanzone in Copenhagen, Denmark, on June 14, 2021.Martin Meissner/The Associated Press

On Saturday, in the 42nd minute of the Euro 2020 soccer match between Denmark and Finland, Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen collapsed face-first on the pitch after suffering cardiac arrest.

In the minutes that followed, medics performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation and defibrillation, and literally brought the 29-year-old star footballer back to life as millions watched on TV.

It was a remarkable event for the 16,000 in the stadium and the millions around the world to witness, even though broadcasters have been roundly criticized for the ghoulishness of keeping the cameras rolling. Mr. Eriksen is now recovering well, making the live play-by-play a little less macabre in retrospect.

But his outcome is unfortunately the rare exception. Fewer than 10 per cent of people who suffer cardiac arrest (when the heart stops suddenly) outside hospital survive.

Saturday’s incident helps explain why.

When Mr. Eriksen collapsed, his teammates stood by, stunned. Understandably, no one started CPR – rapid compressions of the chest to get blood flowing again. At least the referee had the good sense to call for help. And, luckily for the footballer – luck being a relative term here – his collapse occurred with many medical professionals present.

A medic quickly performed a textbook example of CPR, pushing forcefully and rapidly, following the instruction from first-aid courses: “Imagine the rhythm of the disco hit Stayin’ Alive.” (Since guidelines were changed years ago, mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is no longer required.)

Mr. Eriksen’s heart also required defibrillation – an electric shock to restore the heart’s natural rhythm.

Defibrillators are now widely available in public locations, notably sporting venues. They are easy to use and virtually foolproof. They will only deliver a shock if there is an irregular heartbeat.

But acting quickly matters. When blood stops flowing to the brain, severe damage starts to occur within three minutes; in nine minutes, survival becomes highly unlikely.

Paramedics can rarely get to a scene that quickly. Rarer still is a cadre of close-at-hand medical professionals being on standby, as they are at high-level sporting events.

But heart-related events are shockingly common. An estimated 50,000 heart attacks and 35,000 cases of cardiac arrest occur in Canada each year, with most happening at home or in public places, as opposed to hospitals.

Knowing some first aid is crucial. Courses are offered by the Red Cross and St. John Ambulance. The Advanced Coronary Treatment (ACT) Foundation has been pushing to make CPR training mandatory in high-school curriculums, which makes good sense.

The other fascinating aspect of Mr. Eriksen’s widely publicized collapse was how the public responded. Witnessing a shocking event like a sports star collapsing or a car crash can be traumatic. The psychological injury to other players and to fans can be as great as the physical.

Teammates surrounded him, a gesture designed principally to protect him from prying cameras. When Mr. Eriksen’s partner ran out onto the pitch, weeping, no one could be unmoved.

When the footballer was whisked off the field on a stretcher, he was conscious again, but there was no thumbs-up, the gesture that we’ve come to expect of sports stars carted off with injuries in North America. There were no prayer circles or “win one for The Gipper” speeches either; Euro officials suspended play after the incident, though the teams would return later in the day to complete the game with Mr. Eriksen’s encouragement from the hospital.

At the postgame press conference, Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand was asked what he told players, and he sounded more like a therapist than a football coach.

“It’s a traumatic experience,” Mr. Hjulmand said. “The attitude [when play resumed] was, ‘let’s go out and try to do what we can.’ And then we talked about allowing yourself to have all these feelings. And it was okay to say no if they weren’t able to play. Some of them said that they wanted to try. And I said no matter what feelings they had, it was all okay. You had to allow yourself to try to play the game if you felt like it. And you had to dare to show happy emotions. But it was okay to say no. Because some of them they weren’t able to, they weren’t able to play.”

That sermon was incredibly insightful, a reminder that everyone processes trauma differently and that, even when bad things happen, life goes on. Some players wept. Others were stoic or numb. Some were angry that the game was going to resume.

In that little snippet of sports near-tragedy, there is a powerful lesson for us all, especially amid the pandemic: There is no right or wrong way to grieve or recover.

Our hearts are all fragile in different ways, and we must all find our own way forward.

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