PaperTexture - After Damar Hamlin's cardiac arrest, attention turns to chest pads for young athletes

After Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, attention turns to chest pads for young athletes

Do chest protectors keep kids safe on the playing field? The evidence is mixed, doctors say.

“Almost every family that I’ve seen in clinic since Tuesday morning has asked about this,” said Moffatt, division chief of sports medicine at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska. “They were worried about chest impacts.”

Such life-threatening injuries are extremely rare, and though it now appears that the 24-year-old Buffalo Bills safety is recovering, the incident was a gut punch reminder of how quickly injuries can happen.

Doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center haven’t announced what exactly caused Hamlin’s cardiac arrest — the sudden loss of heart function — but during a news briefing Thursday they didn’t rule out a phenomenon called commotio cordis.

Commotio cordis happens when a projectile — often a hockey puck or a baseball, for example — collides with a person’s chest, throwing the heart’s electrical system out of whack. The person goes into potentially deadly cardiac arrest.

Immediate CPR and an automated external defibrillator (AED) are critical in the moments that follow, and that is how Damar Hamlin survived, experts said.

“The rapid response is what saved this player’s life,” said Dr. William Roberts, a sports medicine specialist at the University of Minnesota.

Commotio cordis occurs less than a few dozen times a year in the U.S. Could chest protectors prevent the problem? With the pads costing up to $100 or more, are they worth it?

“When it’s your child, it’s not rare,” said Karen Acompora, board chair for Parent Heart Watch, a group that advocates for greater cardiac protections in youth sports.

Acompora’s son, Louis, was playing in his first high school lacrosse game on New York’s Long Island in 2000 when a blow to his chest resulted in commotio cordis. CPR was administered, but there were no AEDs on site.

Louis was only 14 when he died. His mother has been pushing for chest protection in youth sports ever since.

“I don’t understand why youth sports don’t jump all over safety before a problem” occurs, Acompora said.

It wasn’t until 2019 that the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, developed standards for chest protectors.

In 2022, USA Lacrosse mandated that all youth lacrosse players wear chest protection.

Though doctors have not said whether Hamlin’s injury was indeed commotio cordis, Acompora is glad to see the condition getting national attention.

“I’m hoping with this latest incident that people will open their eyes and say, hmm, maybe we need to do something.”

There are mixed opinions about chest protection in youth sports.

A 2017 study led by Tufts Medical Center in Boston found that chest protectors, specifically ones that incorporate Kevlar, may “be effective in the prevention of commotio cordis on the playing field.”

Stephens, who was not involved in the Tufts study, explained that Kevlar works by spreading the energy of an impact, rather than allowing a projectile to focus all its force in one spot.

After Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, attention turns to chest pads for young athletes
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