Cardiologist explains rare hit that left Bills’ Damar Hamlin in critical care

FILE - Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin (3) leaves the field after an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. Hamlin was in critical condition early Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, after the Bills say his heart stopped following a tackle during the Monday Night Football game, which was indefinitely postponed. (AP Photo/Greg M. Cooper, File)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — Monday Night Football came to a complete stop, minutes into the first quarter, following a tackle made by 24-year-old Damar Hamlin. 

The safety collapsed onto the field suffering from cardiac arrest, requiring CPR for at least 10 minutes as well as the use of a defibrillator. 

“It’s difficult to protect against this because the blow doesn’t need to be terribly strong in order to cause trouble, it just has to happen at precisely the wrong literal millisecond,” Dr. Daniel Philbin, director of Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology at the Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute, explained. 

He added that in a hearts cycle, there is a millisecond of vulnerability, where any force during this time can cause cardiac arrest.  

“And you could watch someone take 50 or 100 mild blows to the chest like that and be perfectly fine, it literally has to do with the timing of the cardiac cycle,” Philbin said. 

The most important thing, according to medical experts, is having lifesaving equipment nearby- and knowing where it is.  

“Recovery on this depends almost entirely on the rapidity in which a shock is delivered to the heart,” said Philbin. 

ABC 6 News asked if better gear could have prevented this, or if this is something athletes should be aware of before playing, Philbin answered, “to limit people’s participation because of something like this may not make a lot of sense just because it’s so uncommon, I think the proper reaction though is just to be prepared for this.”

He also said this kind of injury is most common in youth baseball, but in a full-grown male, it is incredibly rare. 

At this point, Hamlin is in critical care. 

Health experts said that this means he is on a respirator, which allows doctors to take over and make proper assessments. 

The Bills-Bengals game has been suspended for the remainder of the week. 

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