Like many other people, I have spent the better part of a week wishing and hoping for Damar Hamlin to be okay. Unlike many other people, I wasn’t shocked when I saw it. Whenever a player is down on the ground and not grabbing or tugging at a body part, it is never good. As a teacher and part-time coach, I had a pretty strong suspicion that we were witnessing a medical emergency. This was confirmed later that night when word got out that Hamlin had gone into to cardiac arrest and had to be revived. Unfortunately, I was familiar with on-the-field cardiac events because it happens to students, too.
We don’t usually associate heart issues with young people, let alone young athletes in peak physical conditions. But as evident by last week’s events, it happens. It happens much more than people even realize.
I quick Google search of any combination of “cardiac arrest”, “student”, and “high school” will yield plenty of results to serve as proof. Moreover, the results are probably in your area. This has hit close to home for me personally. Last year, one of my former middle school students collapsed while at football practice. He never got back up. I am not alleging any wrongdoing or negligence on the part of the staff at his high school, but part of me wonders if in his final moments, he could have been brought back to life, too. We will never know that, but we do know that such a thing is possible with the right knowledge and equipment.
Cardiac arrest is rare by percentage but is not rare numerically and people who coach long have a pretty good chance of witnessing it. That is why everyone needs to be prepared.
When Damar Hamlin collapsed, he was given oxygen, CPR, and an automated external defibrillator (AED) to restore his heartbeat. He wasn’t out of the woods when the ambulance took him away, but he was in much better condition than he could have been. Keeping a full NFL-level medical staff on hand is probably too much to ask of a high school. But, teachers and coaches are supposed to be trained in CPR and have an AED on hand. I have been in the training where they teach school staff how to do those life saving measures. To say people don’t always take it seriously would be an understatement.
It is somewhat understandable why people wouldn’t be locked into CPR or AED training. Most people in the training will have never needed it up to that point. It is easy to see how someone will anticipate never needing it after that point. Perhaps it is this line of thinking that contributes to around 2000 children passing away from cardiac arrest each year. Who knows how many of the people in those situations were unprepared for the possibility of a cardiac event?
Though I have witnessed CPR being performed and an AED being used, I have not yet had to do either myself. I would be happy for that to remain the case, but I know I need to be ready. If there is one positive from Hamlin’s situation perhaps it’s that more people will be ready.