As a lifetime athlete, I marvel at the smacks, smashes, blood and sweat. From my Living-room it’s entertainment. To a 24-year-old young man collapsing in front of teams, stadiums, family, and millions of us at home is traumatic. For all of us, our prayers go to Damar Hamlin and his loved ones. To watch a young man who is living his dream from childhood collapse in a near-fatal event is not what any of us wish for.

As a 36-year EMS veteran, I could tell within 60 seconds that there was more than just a knee injury happening on that field. CPR was started immediately. At this point, I don’t know all of the on-scene details, but I can safely speculate that his care likely involved a defibrillator and advanced treatment by paramedics. Two days later it was confirmed that he was in fact given CPR and Defibrillation.

Over the years, there have been many stories of athletes from high school to college, to pro sports experiencing SCA (sudden cardiac arrest)/ MI (myocardial infarction).

” 1 in 300 young persons has a condition at risk for sudden cardiac arrest,” said Dr. Jonathan Drezner, the head of the UW Medical Center for Sports Cardiology in Washington. The risk is nearly four times higher in student-athletes, according to Drezner.

Mandatory ECG screening:

Many if not most states have always required some sort of medical screening within 12 months of playing organized school sports. Since I started playing sports in the 70s that has always been the case. From those days through the mid-80s, the doctor visit consisted of taking blood pressure, and body temp and asking a few questions. Usually, viola!… I was an approved athlete!

Seemingly only a few states require or even suggest obtaining an ECG. It is estimated that 1 in 300 young persons (not only athletes) has a condition at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.

As a pro player, I’m certain Mr. Hamlin has been given such in-depth screening which still leaves the truth that SCA can happen for many reasons, even to healthy people. Perhaps it was the shock of the hit, or maybe an issue that always evaded screening.

I will tell you this; the fact that he is in the hospital in any condition and being cared for two days later speaks to the success in the chain of survival! Someone had to have started CPR immediately, someone had to have used a defibrillator immediately, paramedics had to have established IVs and Intubation immediately, and he was transported immediately.

Bills players comfort each other as Damar Hamlin is loaded into the ambulance

What is a Heart Attack?

Acute Myocardial infarction or heart attack is a serious condition that happens when the blood flow to the heart muscle is unexpectedly cut off and causes harm to the heart muscle. Myocardial infarction (MI) was once thought to be an issue for the elderly. A heart attack in someone under the age of 40 was extremely uncommon, but now one in every five-heart attack patients is under the age of 40. Here’s another disturbing fact to emphasize the issue: It’s more typical to have a heart attack in your 20s or early 30s. Between 2000 and 2016, the rate of heart attacks in this young age group climbed by 2% every year.

In my state of Washington, our laws are still trying to catch up to require this type of early screening for young athletes requiring ECG. BUT… we have an organization in our state called the Nick Of Time Foundation. The Nick foundation screens potential high school athletes in the state of Washington. It is free and includes Doctors, Nurses, and EMTs who go so far as to provide a 12-lead ECG to each student. I had the pleasure to work directly with them as they came to my fire department’s area to screen three local high schools. The day I was helping, we screened a young lady who was later given an echocardiogram and found to have a likely life-threatening malfunction of her heart. I think we saved a life that day.

Why are so many more young people having heart issues? Sports drinks, access to nicotine, weight control, stress and hypertension, birth control, and diabetes. A sedentary lifestyle is more prevalent than ever with video games replacing bicycles.

Here are some steps you can do to prevent unexpected cardiac events and how to treat a problem once it occurs.

  1. Annual Physicals (sports physicals should have an ECG)
  2. Reduce alcohol, caffeine esp. sports drinks, and nicotine (vaping mostly)
  3. Pre and off-season fitness
  4. Take a CPR/ AED class
  5. Purchase an AED
  6. Ongoing attention to all the above

Let’s all take care and look out for our athletes young and old!

Brian M Dotson, EMT

Director, Dotson Safety Consulting and CPR

Nick of Time FoundationHome ~ Nick of Time Foundation

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) in Student-Athletes – California Interscholastic Federation (

Incidence of sudden cardiac arrest in high school student athletes on school campus – ScienceDirect

Why young athletes may be more at risk for sudden cardiac arrest – ABC News (

Myocardial Infarction: What Is The Reason For The Increased Number Of Heart Attacks In Young People (




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