IIt may not be that surprising that Damar Hamlin, after suffering a cardiac arrest on the field, reportedly woke up to ask who won the Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game.
When Long Islander Jack Crowley, then 15, took a line drive to the chest at the batting cage in 2015, he woke up confused and wanting to go back to sleep — only to find petrified adults standing around him near the field. When Fordham University softball player Sarah Taffet collapsed near home plate in 2021, she woke up feeling like she was underwater — then asked how far she had hit the ball, and wanted to go back to the game.
They had both, like Hamlin, gone into cardiac arrest after being hit in the chest. Information has yet to be released on the cause of the Bills star’s heart event, although many doctors have suggested that a condition called commotio cordis may have been the culprit. He was released from the Ohio hospital on Monday, a week after his shocking collapse, and continues to recover at another facility at his home in Buffalo, New York.
It was commotio cordis that stopped Mr Crowley’s heart in 2015. Doctors first suspected commotio cordis in Taffet’s cardiac arrest before further tests revealed an underlying, previously undiagnosed heart defect.
Regardless of Hamlin’s diagnosis, his terrifying episode on the track — and the medical speculation surrounding it — has drawn a lot of attention to commotio cordis and sudden cardiac arrest, and survivors are anxious to keep that momentum going. CPR and AED use saved both Mr Crowley and Ms Taffet, they say, and ask the public to be aware that these incidents can happen anywhere, anytime, and everyone needs to be prepared.
“A public event like this really draws attention,” says Crowley The independent, thrilled that Hamlin, like him, has survived cardiac arrest so well. “Everybody should know how to do CPR and AED. It’s so incredibly easy and if you know how to do it, you can save a life. It’s not even if you could save a life; it’s when you want to save a life .”
Cardiac arrest, not to be confused with a heart attack, “is the sudden loss of heart function in a person who may or may not have been diagnosed with heart disease,” according to the American Heart Association. “It can come on suddenly or in the wake of other symptoms” – while a heart attack is caused by a blockage of the heart.
More than 356,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of a hospital in the United States each year, the AHA reports.
Crowley and his family were at his brother’s baseball game in 2015 when he and another brother decided to play in the nearby batting cages.
“I threw him a ball; he fed it back into my chest, he says. “There was a third guy with us, our brother’s friend, who said, ‘Are you okay?’ I just said, ‘Yeah, I’m fine’ – and then I collapsed.”
His vision started to tunnel, “but it happens very quickly,” he says. Luckily, there were two doctors and a nurse watching their kids play baseball nearby, as well as an off-duty police officer. They quickly sprung into action.
“I was unconscious, but they started CPR and put the electrodes on me,” he says, giving “a shock – and after between three and four minutes I was back. I had a pulse; I was breathing on my own. After about five I was awake and talking I didn’t want to go in the ambulance because I didn’t really understand what had happened.
“I didn’t realize the seriousness of it until someone explained to me: ‘Dude. You were clinically dead three minutes ago.'”
When he first woke up, he says, “I really wanted to go back to sleep, which sounds terrible, but I was in high school; it felt like my alarm clock went off at 6am. Then suddenly I finally open my eyes and see all these people around me.”
He spent two days in the hospital before being released.
“They said no residual effects, nothing,” says Crowley, who just graduated from Stony Brook University with a degree in biochemistry and pre-medical studies. He is currently studying at Boston University School of Medicine and is an EMT.
It was determined that he had suffered from commotio cordis, “a condition in which an abnormal heart rhythm (ventricular fibrillation) and cardiac arrest occur immediately upon an object (usually something small and hard such as a baseball or hockey puck) striking the chest directly above the heart at a very critical time during a heartbeat,” according to the Cleveland Clinic.
“With commotio cordis (Latin for “agitation of the heart”), the impulse from the object disrupts the normal heart rhythm and leads to sudden cardiac arrest.”
The condition occurs when a hit lands directly over the heart “at exactly the wrong place at exactly the wrong time” during the heart’s rhythm cycle, said Dr. Rod Passman, director of the Center for Arrhythmia Research at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. AP.
The place where the baseball hit Mr Crowley was “if you went all the way to the bottom of the sternum and went over the left about three or four inches,” he says The independent.
The condition is often seen in young male athletes, usually under the age of 20, and only a few dozen cases are reported in the United States each year. About 60% of those affected survive, heart rhythm specialist Dr. Mark Link of UT Southwestern Medical Center told the AP.
However, the Fordham Softball player was over 20 and a woman when she went into cardiac arrest first attributed to commotio cordis at a softball game in New Jersey in October 2021. However, doctors found within weeks that she had a congenital heart defect called ALCAPA.
The circumstances surrounding her cardiac arrest were very similar to Hamlin’s and Mr Crowley’s; each of them initially seemed ok before collapsing.
Taffet had just hit a ball to first base and was running to hit it before she was tagged out by a player on the other team.
“She tagged me; I kind of fell forward … as if I had the wind knocked out of me, says Taffet The independent. “I was out so I started running off the track. And I kind of remember my body not being able to move and my eyes…everything was closing in on me.
“And then I remember I couldn’t breathe. I thought, “I don’t know what’s going on right now.” I thought I was having a panic attack or something … Everything was black and I couldn’t see and I just remember saying, ‘Why can’t I do it?'”
When her heart stopped, she collapsed and has no memory of it. Like Mr Crowley, she was lucky; a doctor and physician’s assistant were on hand to perform CPR, and her athletic trainer grabbed an AED that successfully shocked her heart back into rhythm.
“I just remember waking up and feeling like I was underwater for a long time,” she says. “I was trying to catch my breath, breathing very heavily and just looked around and was so confused. Even when she was told her heart had stopped, she “didn’t understand it exactly.”
She adds: “I even asked when I woke up, ‘Did I hit a home? Where did I hit the ball?'”
Once in the ambulance, she remembers that she “wanted to go back out and play,” Taffet says. The independent. Her mother mistakenly told her she had hit the ball to third base, and “that’s when it clicked. Like, ‘Oh my god, I hit it to first base, I got a tag and that’s what happened. So my mom told me a wrong story, but it helped me find out what actually happened.”
After two days of tests that came back normal at the hospital, she says, she was told she could return to school but would require follow-up.
One of her doctors “didn’t think it was just commotio cordis,” Taffet says. “You usually see it in young guys and more contact sports, like football. I’ve been tagged in the chest harder than I did that day several times before in my career. It wasn’t dirty by any means; it was a harder hit, but nothing that made someone’s heart stop… so she really didn’t buy that it was purely commotio cordis. That’s why she enjoyed the hundreds of tests afterwards, because she really wanted to make sure – and I’m glad she did because she found out the cause.”
In general, underlying heart disease is the most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest, the AHA’s chief medical officer, Dr. Mariell Jessup, told the AP.
“It is not uncommon to find that very fit athletes have undiagnosed heart disease even though they are young players,” she said.
The doctors found that Taffet had undiagnosed ALCAPA, which stands for anomalous left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery, and she quickly underwent surgery on November 1, 2021. She was playing softball again in February, she says.
“I had open heart surgery and I didn’t miss a season,” she says The independent.
When Hamlin collapsed last week, however, her phone started exploding.
“I got a bunch of texts,” says Taffet. Her teammates messaged to say: “Hi, hope you’re doing well – it definitely brings us back to that game last year.”
Mr Crowley was at his family’s home on Long Island when his brother came down and told him that a football player had suddenly collapsed, as he had.
“I turned on the TV and watched the replay,” he says, adding that it was “weird to see it on the other side.”
“I was very lucky and it kind of reminds me,” he says, adding, “It definitely brought back memories.”
A juvenile diabetic, he had already wanted to be a doctor, he says — but his brush with death “definitely turned me toward emergency medicine.”
“That’s hopefully the goal,” he says. “I’d like to work in an emergency room somewhere.”
In addition to studying medicine, he works to raise awareness and emphasizes the importance, again, of knowing CPR, having an AED available and knowing how to use it. He knows that one day, as an emergency physician, he may end up treating patients just like him—and just like him, patients helped by knowledgeable bystanders.
“I hope that by the time they get to me, they’ve already been shocked,” he says.