Journaling: The Heart Facts

Bruce Apar is Editorial Director + Associate Publisher of River Journal North

Years from now, when football fans can’t quite quickly recall which teams played in the 2023 Super Bowl, what NFL fans and non-fans alike are much more apt to recall is the improbable incident of the player who virtually dropped dead on the gridiron Jan. 2, 2023, only to be miraculously brought back to life, right before the eyes of tens of thousands in the stadium and tens of millions watching the telecast. 

Right after he made what appeared to be a typical tackle on a Cincinnati Bengals player, the Buffalo Bills defensive player who became an overnight household name, Damar Hamlin, stood up, then abruptly crumpled to the ground. His heart had stopped, literally, while the hearts of those watching also stopped, figuratively.

The game also stopped, and never was completed. Hamlin was ferried off the field, after being resuscitated, and it was a couple of days before the medics announced Hamlin appeared to be on the road to recovery. Hamlin clearly had dodged a bullet by surviving the near-tragic collision. Immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) saved the 24-year-old professional football player’s life.  


Cardiac arrest is what happens when “a dangerous heart rhythm prevents the heart from pumping. As a result, the heart can’t pump blood to the brain, lungs, or other organs,” says Dr. Sonia Tolani, a cardiologist specializing in sports cardiology and co-director of the Women’s Heart Center at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “People can die or have serious, unrecoverable injuries unless blood flow is restored very quickly,” the physician is quoted saying in an article by Camille Bautista-Fryer of NYP’s Health Matters publication.

Dr. Tolani points out that when a little leaguer gets hit in the chest by a fastball, it can be fatal if it happens between heartbeats, which can lead to “a fatal arrhythmia” (aka commotio cordis).

All of this underscores the critical importance of more people being trained in CPR. A 12-year-old boy in New Jersey inexplicably collapsed and died recently during no-contact football practice. It never will be known if CPR could have saved him because nobody there knew how to apply it.

If you’re pressed into service when somebody appears to suffer cardiac arrest, Dr. Tolani specifically mentions using “Hands Only CPR, where you manually help circulate the blood for the heart at 100 compressions per minute.”

After that, it’s strongly recommended that an automated external defibrillator (AED) also be used.  That kind of immediate treatment in the first few minutes of a medical event “can double or triple a person’s chance of survival.” Just ask Damar Hamlin.

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About the Author: Bruce Apar