Responding to sudden cardiac arrest in athletes

The Buffalo Bills report that Damar Hamlin remains in critical condition at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center after the 24-year-old safety suffered a sudden cardiac arrest during Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. 

Dr. Kim Harmon, a UW Medicine family medicine and sports medicine specialist and a longtime team physician for the University of Washington Huskies football team, said the medical response to Hamlin’s collapse was immediate and crucial. 

“If an athlete has a sudden collapse, they're standing up and then they fall down, it should really be a sudden cardiac arrest until proven otherwise,” said Harmon. “The sooner you get CPR — actually, more specifically, the sooner that you can get a shock to the heart to restart it — the better the outcomes are statistically.”

Such a shock comes from an automated external defibrillator (AED) and can be life-saving, said Dr. Jordan Prutkin, a cardiac electrophysiologist at the UW Medicine Heart Institute.

“There is a difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest. A heart attack is a plumbing problem; so that's an issue where one of the arteries of the heart gets blocked. That's very different than a cardiac arrest, which most commonly is due to an electrical issue, where you have a life-threatening fast heart rhythm,” he said. “That is presumably what happened yesterday, is that something caused his heart rhythm to go super-fast and needed to be shocked to get out of it.” 

Download broadcast-ready soundbites on cardiac arrest among athletes, including potential risks and treatment.

UW Medicine