The heart attack of Damar Hamlin is an important reminder for sports organizations and leagues to “revitalize their protocols” so they can respond as quickly as possible for “life-saving opportunities”.
The 24-year-old’s Buffalo Bills safety collapsed on the field during Monday’s NFL game with the Cincinnati Bengals, and the incident occurred at Paycor Stadium in the first quarter.
Hamlin remained on the ground for more than 10 minutes while undergoing CPR in the field before being placed in a waiting ambulance and transported to the University of Cincinnati medical facility. His condition was declared to be critical.
Speaking to Stats Perform, Professor of Emergency Medicine and Director of the Resuscitation Science Center, Dr. Benjamin Abella said organizers of the 2026 men’s soccer World Cup, co-hosted by the NFL and the USA. will be constantly working on ways to improve responses to medical emergencies in the field.
“There are important lessons for professional sports in all of this. We can also mention the journalist Grant Wahl, who recently died in Qatar. Now his situation could be more complicated.”
“But in all these cases, the presence of people trained in CPR and, more importantly, the rapid availability of automated external defibrillators is crucial.
“With the World Cup coming to the US in a while, they’re going to have to think very carefully about their contingency plans and the availability of AEDs. I think the NFL continues to take up this issue and think about it, and rightly so.
“If you have a cardiac arrest in the stands when you have a crowded field, how do you quickly get the defibrillator and rescue team to the casualty if it happens on the field? This is not a simple problem.
“But it’s something that sports leagues and gyms need to constantly train and renew their protocols because there are life-saving opportunities. It’s all a matter of logistics and timing.”
Dr Abella explained that the general public can also be educated on how to provide help quickly when cardiac arrest occurs.
“Cardiovascular arrest is one of the most time-sensitive diseases in all of medicine, it turns out that the chance of surviving cardiac arrest drops by 10 to 15 percent for every minute of no CPR.
“So it’s a very dramatic and unfortunate situation that requires immediate attention. This is especially important for the public to be aware of because anyone can do something, they can do CPR if they see someone having a heart attack and fainting.”
“The other key action is the use of an automated external defibrillator AED, which is now available in many places, gyms, airports, train stations, restaurants.
“Through the use of CPR and AED, survival from cardiac arrest is not guaranteed, but the chances of survival are greatly increased.”
Dr Abella detailed important steps to be taken in Hamlin’s treatment.
“After her initial recovery from cardiac arrest, where her heart is now beating and moving blood, it’s still a very weak and dangerous time for her,” he said.
“In the days following cardiac arrest, there is a race to save the brain and improve organ function. A number of things are going on in the hospital, usually in the intensive care unit, and there are really three main things that will happen over the next few days.
“One is the use of a treatment modality known as targeted temperature management, or TTM, which is an approach to carefully and sensitively maintaining certain body temperatures for therapeutic gain. Usually patients are cooled and their body temperature is measuredly lowered; it has been shown to improve brain recovery after cardiac arrest.
“Another important thing that is almost certainly done is to manage blood pressure very, very carefully. If a patient has a drop in blood pressure after cardiac arrest and it tends to drop, it can be dangerous because we need to keep the blood pressure flowing to the brain.
“So ICU doctors will work carefully to monitor and manage blood pressure with medications and other things.
“The third important thing will be the neurological assessment. This is going to be the hardest part for all of us, I think, to watch, because it usually takes two, three, four or five days, it takes a while. And we do this by recording the brain waves and also by imaging the brain.”