Getting Answers: cardiologist reacts to Hamlin’s cardiac arrest

We’re getting answers from medical experts on what might have caused the terrifying situation that led to the collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin on M
Published: Jan. 3, 2023 at 2:35 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 3, 2023 at 6:45 PM EST
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - We’re getting answers from medical experts on what might have caused the terrifying situation that led to the collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin on Monday night.

“The real question is not ‘Is his heart going to recover?’…I’m sure his heart will be fine when all is said and done. The question is how much brain damage will have been done from not having oxygen for five or 10 minutes,” said Dr. Quinn Pack, a cardiologist at Baystate Medical Center.

It was a frightening situation on Monday Night Football in Cincinnati when Hamlin was hit in the chest during a tackle, fell to the ground, and collapsed a few seconds after attempting to get up. It was later determined Hamlin had gone into cardiac arrest.

“Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops beating basically or profusing blood and that leads to collapse, which is, I think, what we saw yesterday on the field,” Pack added.

Pack told Western Mass News this is different from a heart attack.

“A heart attack is when part of a heart dies because it’s not getting enough oxygen,” Pack noted.

He pointed out another difference.

“Most of the time cardiac arrest occurs from an electric problem, something with the way that the beating is working.”

Pack told us he’s never seen or heard of something like this on a football field. He added that it’s something you only read about in textbooks. After watching the video Tuesday morning, he offered his thoughts on what might have led up to the situation.

“It’s known as commotio cordis. You have to get hit in the chest and you have to get hit strongly enough…It has to land right on the repolarization of the heart, so there’s only about two or three milliseconds where this can happen in any particular person,” Pack explained.

Players on both the Bills and Bengals gathered around Hamlin as CPR was administered for more than nine minutes before he was transported to the hospital. Pack said cardiac arrest is fatal for most people and survival rates depend almost entirely on where you are and how quickly you receive therapy.

“He had CPR within, it sounds like, about 30 seconds and he got a defibrillator within what sounds like about five minutes, so not knowing anything more, I would say his chances are as good as anybody’s, but it’s still a terrible thing to have happened,” Pack said.

There’s also a teaching point for everyone to keep in mind following this incident.

“The public health lesson here is very clearly start CPR just as fast as you can, call 911 just as fast as you can, and get defibrillation just as fast as you can,” Pack added.

Hamlin remained in critical condition Tuesday in the hospital.