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The key to survival: Medical experts explain how emergencies on the field like Hamlin's are handled

Bills Bengals Football
Posted at 5:57 PM, Jan 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-04 13:13:12-05

GREEN BAY — There's a lot of discussion about brain and head trauma injuries in football, but those aren't the only medical emergencies a player can suffer. Like Damar Hamlin, cardiac arrest is one of them.

Emergency Medicine Physician and Vice President of Health and Business at the American Heart Association Dr. Comilla Sasson said cardiac arrest can affect anyone at any age and can be caused by a number of things, including an irregular heartbeat.

"Cardiac arrest is different than a heart attack. A heart attack is a low blood flow state to the heart itself," Sasson said. "A cardiac arrest is very different. This is when the heart physically stops, and what happens then is that you don't have blood flow to the brain and other vital organs."

Delo Sports Medicine Physician Dr. Marjorie Delo said the key to survival for athletes in an emergency like this starts with having a plan in place ahead of time.

"It's making sure that we have the equipment we need, and we know it's in working order," Delo said. "...That we have an ambulance on sight, and we know where they are and that they have a clear exit route."

She said they immediately check the 'ABCs' of a medical emergency: airways, breathing and circulation. This includes checking for a pulse and monitoring the heart's rhythm.

Delo added that pre-participation physicals for athletes are important in preventing a crisis on the field, but some cardiac issues can't always be detected.

Athlete or not, she and Sasson emphasized the importance of recognizing cardiac arrest symptoms and acting immediately.

"Starting right away, knowing that if somebody's down and they're not responsive," Sasson said. "If they're not breathing well, calling 911 right away, getting the hands on the chest and starting decompressions."

A spokesperson for the Packers said the procedures followed for medical emergencies of this nature at Lambeau Field are the same throughout the NFL. The NFL tweeted this afternoon a look at their on-site medical staff during games.