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Heart experts available on NFL’s Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest

‘Learn CPR today; you can save a life,’ experts say

CHICAGO --- Northwestern Medicine experts in sports cardiology, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, cardiac electrophysiology and emergency medicine are available to speak to the media about NFL player Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest during Monday night’s football game. 

While it remains uncertain what happened on the field or what Hamlin’s prognosis will be, Northwestern experts are stressing the importance of widespread public knowledge of CPR and use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) as needed to save lives. 

“We must protect the space of this young man and his family, and infer nothing without evidence,” said Dr. Clyde Yancy, chief of cardiology in the department of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine cardiologist. “But, here's the take-home message: Learn CPR today; you can save a life.”  

Yancy is available intermittently throughout the day today for interviews with the media. Email Kristin Samuelson to arrange. 

Northwestern Medicine expert in heart arrhythmias, Dr. Rod Passman, director of the Center for Arrhythmia Research at Northwestern, understands all aspects of sudden cardiac events. He is available for comment. 

Northwestern Medicine sudden cardiac death expert Dr. George Chiampas, assistant professor of emergency medicine and orthopaedic surgery at Feinberg, founded the Chicago Cardiac Arrest Resuscitation Education Service (CCARES), a community outreach organization that educates and raises awareness of the importance of bystander CPR and AED use.

Email Kristin to arrange an interview with either of these Northwestern Medicine experts. View an instructional video on how to perform hands-only CPR. 

A suspected commotio cordis diagnosis 

“From watching the events of last evening, some cardiologists may suspect a rare condition known as commotio cordis, which is a sudden strike to the chest and heart that can cause the patient to lose consciousness,” said Dr. Kannan Mutharasan, associate professor of cardiology at Feinberg and co-director of Northwestern Medicine’s sports cardiology program. “That is a rare condition that can happen in any contact sport. It’s not something you can screen, we don't know the risk factors but do know the consequences. It is a very unfortunate occurrence.”

There have only been 200 cases of commotio cordis reported since 1995. 

For those wondering why Hamlin was standing up after being hit and then collapsed, Mutharasan said, “that is the appearance of cardiac arrest as the brain can function for a few seconds without any blood flow. This is pretty classic for a heart rhythm disturbance.”

Other causes of cardiac arrest in athletes

Other causes of cardiac arrest in athletes are undiagnosed cardiac conditions, the most common of which is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a thickening of the heart muscle that makes it harder to pump blood. HCM is common, underdiagnosed and associated with sudden death in younger athletes. Other less common cardiac conditions, some present from birth, may cause heart events in children and young adults.

Northwestern Medicine HCM experts Dr. Robert Bonow, a professor of cardiology at Feinberg, and Dr. Doug Johnston, chief of cardiac surgery at Feinberg, are available for interviews with the media. 

“Of the several culprit cardiomyopathies, HCM is one of few where elite athleticism is possible,” Bonow said. “Children in grade school and high school are also susceptible to these uncommon cardiac events, and there are millions who participate in sports, so the keys are awareness, CPR training and availability of AEDs.”

Other experts available today include the other co-directors of Northwestern’s sports cardiology program, Dr. Allison Zielinski, an assistant professor of cardiology at Feinberg, and Dr. Micah Eimer, a health system clinician of cardiology at Feinberg.