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Hamlin's cardiac arrest has experts speaking out about commotio cordis

After the events surrounding Damar Hamlin on Monday night, health experts weigh in on how coaches, parents and players can protect themselves from commotio cordis.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — By now, the world has seen the events that occurred during the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals football game Monday night that left Bills player Damar Hamlin in critical condition.

From the heartbreaking reactions of players, to the swift response by emergency crews, the incident showed the health risks of playing contact sports.

The term "commotio cordis" has been thrown around by health experts following the incident—many of them speculating that this is what Hamlin suffered on the field Monday. Sports medicine doctors said this is when trauma occurs to the chest that can throw off your normal heart rhythm, which could cause sudden cardiac arrest.

Experts said what is even more interesting is how rare this is during football. Many said that commotio cordis is mostly seen in sports such as baseball, ice hockey and lacrosse. 

But after the wide coverage of Hamlin, experts said that maybe this incident could help bring more awareness to players' safety.

Dr. Matthew Silvis, director of sports medicine at Penn State Health, said commotio cordis is the leading cause of death for young athletes. And while rare, Silvis said it's important for parents and coaches to be aware of signs of trauma. 

"The most important thing you can do is identify when something happens; you want to recognize quickly that the athlete has suffered an injury that could be life-threatening," said Silvis. "You want to be able to react in that scenario and do something to try to help save that person's life."

Silvis pointed to ways to do just that. He said there should be a push to increase CPR training for coaches and even bystanders. Silvis also suggested increasing the availability of AEDs in proximity to sporting events. 

Coaches and players shouldn't have to wait until a life-threating incident to protect themselves. However, Silvis said to be wary of chest protectors commonly seen in sporting goods stores. He said these products are scientifically proven to not protect from commotio cordis.

Silvis said the most important way to protect athletes from the condition is for coaches to teach players proper technique and form to avoid contact to the chest.

"If you're going to get hit with a baseball pitch, for instance, you don't turn your chest towards that pitch, you turn in, you rotate your body so that the ball is hitting you on your shoulder, your arm and not the front of your chest," said Silvis. "That's something that coaches and parents can teach these young athletes so they can lessen their risk of having one of these events, depending on the sport that they're participating in."

Silvis said while the incident on Monday, or whenever an event like this occurs, can be scary for parents, it doesn't mean athletes should stop playing contact sports. 

"This is a rare event; we don't want people to overreact to what happened," said Silvis. "Sports and exercise are really of benefit in a variety of ways."

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