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Time is Key: Emergency Department Physician Offers Tips to Respond to a Cardiac Arrest

| Date Posted: 1/3/2023

PINEHURST, N.C. – The matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals ended abruptly Monday night after Bills safety Damar Hamlin, 24, suffered a cardiac arrest on the field.


Hamlin collapsed following a hit during the first quarter, and he received CPR for several minutes before being taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. Early Tuesday, team officials said Hamlin had been sedated and was in critical condition.


Cardiac arrest happens when a person’s heart suddenly stops beating. They may collapse, lose consciousness and be unresponsive, and they will either be breathing abnormally or not breathing at all.


Cardiac arrest can come on suddenly or in the wake of other symptoms. Cardiac arrest is often fatal if appropriate steps aren’t taken immediately. More than 356,000 cardiac arrests occur outside a hospital in the U.S. each year. According to the American Heart Association, about 90% of people who suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests die. CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a victim’s chance of survival.


Matthew Harmody, M.D., medical director of FirstHealth EMS, said Hamlin’s incident is a stark reminder of the importance of knowing how to respond in an emergency cardiac event.


“Medical personnel were able to begin treatment on the field almost immediately, which is key in any cardiac event. We all hope Hamlin can make a complete recovery,” Harmody said. “If you are around someone who shows the signs of cardiac arrest, call 911 and begin hands-only CPR immediately.”


Hands-only CPR is CPR without rescue breaths. Push down at least 2 inches in the center of the chest at a rate of 100 to 120 pushes per minute, roughly the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees. Allow the chest to come back up to its normal position after each push.


“If there are other bystanders available during a cardiac event, ask them to find a nearby AED (automated external defibrillator). As soon as it arrives, turn it on and follow the prompts,” Harmody said. “Continue CPR until the person starts to breathe or move or someone with more advanced training, such as an EMS paramedic, takes over.”


Harmody also suggested that members of the public learn more about where a nearby AED is stored in case of an emergency at their workplace.


The American Heart Association has many resources, including tips on how to perform hands-only CPR and how music can help you remember the correct compression rate to help during an emergency.


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