Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest after making a tackle during Monday night’s game, causing the NFL to suspend a pivotal game against the Cincinnati Bengals that quickly lost significance in the aftermath of a scary scene that unfolded in front of a national television audience.
“Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in our game versus the Bengals. His heartbeat was restored on the field and he was transferred to the UC Medical Center for further testing and treatment,” the Bills said in a statement released early Tuesday. “He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition.” Hamlin spent the night in the intensive-care unit.
The 24-year-old Hamlin was administered CPR on the field. Teammates surrounded Hamlin, shielding him from public view. Many were weeping and praying while Hamlin was treated on the field by team and independent medical personnel and local paramedics. He was taken by ambulance to University of Cincinnati Medical Center. Teammate Stefon Diggs later went to visit Hamlin at the hospital while fans of both teams gathered outside, holding lit candles and praying.
Dorrian Glenn, Hamlin’s uncle, told CNN in an televised interview outside the hospital Tuesday that Hamlin needed to have his heart re-started twice – once on the field, and again after he arrived at the hospital. Glenn said there were some encouraging signs, such as doctors lowering the level of oxygen Hamlin needs from 100 per cent to 50 per cent.
WHAT HAPPENED TO HAMLIN?
Hamlin was hurt while tackling Bengals receiver Tee Higgins on a seemingly routine play that didn’t appear unusually violent. Higgins was running with the ball on a 13-yard pass from Joe Burrow when he led with his right shoulder, hitting Hamlin in the chest. Hamlin then wrapped his arms around Higgins’ shoulders and helmet to drag him down. Hamlin quickly got to his feet, appeared to adjust his face mask with his right hand, and then fell backward about three seconds later and lay motionless. Hamlin was down for 19 minutes while receiving medical attention. WXIX-TV in Cincinnati reported that Hamlin required an automated external defibrillator (AED) in addition to CPR on the field.
WHAT COULD HAVE CAUSED HAMLIN’S CARDIAC ARREST?
Cardiac specialists say it’s too soon to know what caused Hamlin’s heart to stop, but a rare type of trauma called commotio cordis is among the possible culprits. Commotio cordis occurs when a severe blow to the chest causes the heartbeat to quiver, leading to sudden cardiac arrest.
The condition only happens during a rare set of circumstances: when a sharp hit lands directly over the heart “at the exact wrong location at the exact wrong timing” during the heart’s rhythm cycle, said Dr. Rod Passman, director of the centre for arrhythmia research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
Commotio cordis occurs “probably 20 times a year,” and about 60 per cent of those affected survive, said heart rhythm specialist Dr. Mark Link of UT Southwestern Medical Center. The main worry for survivors is brain damage from lack of oxygen when the heart stops pumping blood, Link said. Doctors can help reduce that risk with deep sedation to give the brain a rest, he said.
Dr. Aman Chugh, a University of Michigan cardiology professor, noted that hard-hitting tackles are extremely common in football and that commotio cordis is extremely rare. It could be that Hamlin had a pre-existing heart condition that caused his heart to stop, although that is speculative, Chugh said.
In general, underlying heart disease is the most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest, said Dr. Mariell Jessup, the American Heart Association’s chief medical officer.
“It is not uncommon to find out that very vigorous athletes have undiagnosed cardiac conditions even if they’re young players,” she said.
More than 365,000 people in the U.S. have sudden cardiac arrests in non-hospital settings each year, according to the American Heart Association. Survival depends on quick CPR and shocking the heart back into a normal rhythm, as reportedly happened with Hamlin.
“The teachable moment is learn CPR,” Jessup said.
Hamlin’s medical history has not been made public.
WHAT TOOK SO LONG TO POSTPONE THE GAME?
It took the NFL about one hour after Hamlin collapsed to officially suspend the game because league executives were gathering information and communicating with referee Shawn Smith, coaches from both teams and the NFL Players Association. Troy Vincent, the league’s executive vice president of football operations, said that the NFL’s Emergency Action Plan was activated. Vincent communicated with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith. Dawn Aponte, the league’s chief football administrative officer, was at the game and communicated with Bills coach Sean McDermott and Bengals coach Zac Taylor and the referee. “It was fluid and things were changing by the minute,” Vincent said. “It was obvious on the phone that the emotions were extremely high. It was a very volatile situation.” Vincent refuted ESPN’s broadcast report that both teams were given a five-minute warm-up period to resume playing. “I’m not sure where that came from,” Vincent said. “It never crossed our mind to talk about warming up to resume play. That’s ridiculous. That’s insensitive. That’s not a place we should ever be in.”
WHO IS HAMLIN?
Hamlin spent five years of college at Pittsburgh and appeared in 48 games for the Panthers over that span. He was a second-team All-ACC performer as a senior, was voted a team captain and was picked to play in the Senior Bowl. Hamlin is from McKees Rocks, a hard-scrabble exurb of Pittsburgh, and was selected by Buffalo in the sixth-round of the 2021 draft out of Pitt. He spent his rookie season limited to playing special teams roles, and took over the starting job in Week 3 in place of veteran Micah Hyde, who remains sidelined by a neck injury. In 2020, Hamlin began organizing an annual Christmas toy drive in his hometown of McKees Rocks, Pa. In late 2020, Hamlin created the Chasing M’s Foundation and launched a fundraiser with a stated goal of US$2,500 to buy toys for children ahead of that year’s holiday season. The page, which has remained active, received nearly US$3,000 during a two-year span through December, 2022. Total donations have now skyrocketed to over US$4.6-million as fans used it to show their support for Hamlin. Bills offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, in a post on Twitter, described Hamlin as a “kind, caring, extremely hard worker.” Saffold wrote that Hamlin is “loyal, honest and can always put a smile on your face. He is more than an athlete, he is a son and brother.”
HOW IS HIS FAMILY DOING?
Hamlin’s family expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support shown toward the Buffalo safety who suffered cardiac arrest after making a tackle while asking everyone to keep the hospitalized player in their prayers on Tuesday. “We are deeply moved by the prayers, kind words and donations from fans around the country,” Hamlin’s family wrote in a message posted on the Twitter account of the player’s marketing representative, Jordon Rooney. “Your generosity and compassion has meant the world to us.” The family also thanked the first responders, medical staff at UC Medical Center, the Bills and Cincinnati Bengals for their support. As the second-year Bills player lay sedated in a hospital bed with his family by his side, Hamlin’s competitive and giving spirit has not been lost on those who know him. “All I can say is he’s fighting. He’s a fighter,” Rooney told ABC’s Good Morning America. “The family is in good spirits. We’re obviously just taking it minute by minute, hour by hour.”
WHAT’S NEXT FOR THE NFL?
Numerous NFL teams cancelled their media availabilities on Tuesday, including the New England Patriots, who are scheduled to travel to Buffalo for both teams’ season finales on Sunday. The Bills-Bengals game was postponed indefinitely, and the NFL announced Tuesday that it will not be resumed this week despite major playoff implications. Both teams are battling for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. The Bills (12-3) entered the game in the top spot while the Bengals (11-4) had a chance to clinch the AFC North with a victory and also were in the mix for the No. 1 seed along with Kansas City (13-3). The Bengals led 7-3 in the first quarter when the game was stopped. The NFL has made no decision regarding a possible resumption at a later date. Goodell told teams they would be advised promptly of any changes to this weekend’s schedule. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in a memo on Tuesday sent to all 32 teams said mental-health and support resources are available to players and staff and that additional on-site services can be made available.
With a report from Reuters