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Damar Hamlin #3 of the Buffalo Bills tackles Tee Higgins #85 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the first quarter of an NFL football game at Paycor Stadium on January 2, 2023, in Cincinnati, Ohio. | Source: Kevin Sabitus / Getty

The still-unfolding extent of Damar Hamlin’s injury Monday night sent a collective shock to viewers and players alike. The Buffalo Bills player’s critical condition and life-threatening hospitalization prompted a number of questions about what exactly happened.

However, one group of people seemed to be pretty certain about what Hamlin’s injury is — doctors, who took to Twitter to share their medical expertise in the hours after Hamlin collapsed on the field while playing against the Cincinnati Bengals. They were united in their expert opinions: Hamlin suffered commotio cordis.

Hamlin collapsed moments after he got up from tackling Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins in a violent collision. Medical personnel had to perform CPR on Hamlin at length as an ambulance drove on the field to take him to the hospital about an hour after he collapsed.

It was the nature of the tackle and the impact with Hamlin’s chest, in particular, that the physicians said they recognized as likely being the cause of what ESPN reported was cardiac arrest.

“The video of Damar Hamlin from a cardiologist’s perspective resembled commotio cordis – a phenomenon that occurs when a sudden blunt impact to the chest causes cardiac arrest,” Dr. Bernard Ashby, a vascular cardiologist who is also a medical school professor, tweeted Monday night. “Timely defibrillation is life saving & prevents anoxic brain injury. I pray an AED was near.”

An AED, or automated external defibrillator, is a portable device doctors use to send electrical shocks in an effort to re-establish a heart’s rhythm.

Other doctors on Twitter offered their similar diagnoses of Hamlin based on what they saw.

Here’s how Commotio Cordis is defined by the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute, which studies injuries that cause sudden death to athletes and is named for the late former NFL player.

The definition does not offer a good prognosis for anyone who suffers commortio cordis:

Commotio Cordis refers to the sudden arrhythmic death caused by a low/mild chest wall impact.  Commotio Cordis is seen mostly in athletes between the ages of 8 and 18 who are partaking in sports with projectiles such as baseballs, hockey pucks, or lacrosse balls. These projectiles can strike the athletes in the middle of the chest with a low impact but enough to cause the heart to enter an arrhythmia. Martial arts is a sport in which a strike of a hand can also cause the heart to change it’s rhythm. Without immediate CPR and defibrillation the prognosis of commotio cordis is not very good.  This condition is extremely dangerous with rare survival.


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