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How to identify and respond to cardiac events

CPR being performed

At only 24 years old, Damar Hamlin faced a rare cardiac event in Monday's game. It's left a lot of us wondering if this could happen to young athletes we know - and what we should do if someone is experiencing a cardiac event. And while it is believed Hamlin experienced Commotio Cordis, a rare arrhythmia triggering cardiac arrest after a direct hit to the chest, more often young people face cardiac events due to underlying heart issues they didn't even know they have. WBFO's Disabilities Desk reporter Emyle Watkins spoke with Jason J Stulb from the American Heart Association to learn more about Hamlin's injury, heart health, how to identify cardiac events, and how to be prepared in case someone you know experiences one.

EMYLE WATKINS: To start, could you just introduce yourself?

JASON STULB: My name is Jason Stulb and I am the Executive Director for the American Heart Association in the Buffalo and Rochester region.

Well, first and foremost, the American Heart Association, we're an organization promoting longer, healthier lives through health equity. In Western New York, we work on lots of different things, from research to public policy, to education, to programs, all aimed at, you know, fighting cardiovascular disease and stroke, and overall making the community a healthier place to live. And for everyone to have longer lives free of any sort of heart disease.

EMYLE WATKINS: How are you doing today? I mean, were you watching the Bills game last night? And what is kind of been the reaction for yourself and for your team at the American Heart Association?

JASON STULB: Obviously, a very scary sight. And then, you know, once I learned that they were doing CPR on the field, there, I did have an inkling that it was probably a cardiac arrest situation, something that can happen through a blunt force trauma to the chest, or otherwise. But I think just like everyone else, watching it unfold, just thinking about, you know, hopefully, this young man is, is okay, and recovers. And hopefully, everybody takes the action needed to set him up for recovery and go from there.

EMYLE WATKINS: Can you talk a little bit about the importance of, especially in sports, having trained people, having the resources, and the, you know, items, you need to respond to a cardiac arrest situation?

JASON STULB: With any situation like that, with cardiac arrest, time is going to be very important, and how swift people can take action. One, administering CPR, calling 911, and getting an AED on site, you know, those three things are going to be very important. It was a very unfortunate, you know, the thing that happened to Damar. But luckily, as far as the venue where it took place, he had trained medical staff there, you know, there was an AED on site, able to call 911. Get them there pretty, pretty quickly. You know, that, unfortunately, is not the case for everybody, when you know, cardiac arrest takes place.

EMYLE WATKINS: Do you think most people are educated on cardiac arrest? And if not, what do you think people need to do to become educated and to know what to do if someone they love is having a cardiac event?

JASON STULB: So, you know, a lot of people use the term heart attack, and cardiac arrest interchangeably, they are two different situations. A heart attack is a is a blockage circulation situation where the heart muscle is not receiving the blood it needs. And then the tissue, therefore, is getting damaged, where a cardiac arrest is actually an electrical problem. It's an electrical disruption of your heart rhythm, that throws it into what's called an arrhythmia. So from there, you lose blood being pumped to all the vital organs, including the brain. So a cardiac arrest is a different situation. And it presents itself differently. So you know, as opposed to a heart attack, where people think of like the elephant on the chest and the pressure and, you know, that is not the case with a credit arrest, it's so much more sudden and, and someone you know collapses and loses consciousness rather quickly. So it's important to know the difference between those two. And one more important difference is that with a cardiac arrest, you know, an AED is vital in order to deliver the shock needed to get the heart back in rhythm, right? So again, different than a heart attack, that's where [with] the cardiac arrest, you're gonna need to get that AED on site. And so CPR, AED and then making sure that they see medical professionals.

EMYLE WATKINS: There's probably a lot of parents who just watched this happen, and are just in shock and can't imagine this happening to their kid. What can families and friends and bystanders do to be prepared in case of a cardiac event?

JASON STULB: So, the first one would be to know how to identify what's happening. So know what the difference is between a heart attack, a cardiac arrest, a stroke, know what those symptoms are, right?

Another thing that everyone can do to be very prepared is to know bystander, or hands-only CPR.

So we're promoting with hands-only CPR that you can learn it in as little as a minute on our site, which is www.heart.org/cpr, you can check out lots of links there. And everyone should just at least administer hands-only CPR and just do something and initiate that chain of survival. So if people can have a takeaway from all of this and learn that and learn that chain of survival, that would be very important.

The chain of survival would be to identify, you know what is going on with the victim, call 911, whether that's yourself or someone else, you can set the phone down next you, and then administer hands-only CPR and hands-only CPR is just chest compressions only, you do it to the rate of about 100 beats per minute, which coincidentally is to something like the tune of like Staying Alive by the Bee Gees or Crazy in Love by Beyonce, you would do chest compressions to that rate as you're on the phone with 911. And then you would look to get an AED on-site. So the next part of that chain of survival is where are you? Are you at a facility that has an AED? Or can you ask someone to go find one at the nearest facility? The quicker you could get that there, the better your chances of survival. So you know, being prepared for an incident like this, just make sure that you're equipped with that knowledge and you know how to react so that someone is jumping in to help drastically increase the opportunity for the victim to survive.

EMYLE WATKINS: Great. Well, thank you so much.

JASON STULB: Sounds good. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Emyle Watkins is an investigative journalist covering disability for WBFO.
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