Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin says his doctors have concluded that a hit to the chest caused his heart to stop after a tackle during a game in Cincinnati in early January.
The rare condition — called commotio cordis — occurs when a severe blow to the chest causes the heart to quiver and stop pumping blood efficiently, leading to sudden cardiac arrest.
Hamlin, 25, was administered CPR on the field and hospitalized for more than a week. On Tuesday, Bills general manager Brandon Beane said Hamlin was cleared to play after meeting with a third and final specialist last week. Hamlin told reporters later that the doctors all agreed his cardiac arrest was due to commotio cordis. None of his doctors were present to speak to the media.
It’s an extremely rare consequence of a blow of the right type and intensity “at exactly the wrong time in the heartbeat,” said Dr. Gordon F. Tomaselli, dean of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
“These are several extraordinary things that must all happen at exactly the same, wrong time in a 20-40 millisecond window,” as the lower chambers of the heart are preparing to contract, the former president of the American Heart Association said in a statement released by the group on Tuesday. “Collapse occurs within seconds.”
The condition occurs mostly in boys and young men playing sports, and usually involves a blow to the left chest with a hard round object, like a baseball or a hockey puck, according to the heart group.
Hamlin’s collapse was seen by a national television audience during a Monday night game in Cincinnati on Jan. 2.
“If there is some greater good that can come from his commotio cordis event, it is that as many people as possible are now aware of how important it is to provide urgent care for all cardiac emergencies,” Nancy Brown, CEO of the heart group, said in the statement.
More than 365,000 people in the U.S. have sudden cardiac arrests outside of the hospital each year, according to group. Survival depends on quick CPR and shocking the heart back into a normal rhythm.