Dr. Jerome Adams.
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Damar Hamlin’s story thankfully seems to be heading toward a positive ending: His doctors report that he is neurologically intact and on his way to recovery.
In just a few days, numerous aspects of his shocking cardiac arrest have been discussed and dissected, from the dangers of high-impact youth sports, to wild speculations about whether vaccines could have been a contributor (while I know nothing more about his particular case than anyone else, I can tell you that the hit to an area directly over his heart was classic for commotio cordis – a condition unrelated to vaccines or COVID-19 – and that an individual’s risk of myocarditis appears to be far greater after a COVID infection than after a COVID vaccine).
Unfortunately, the most important part of how Hamlin miraculously got to this point – from literally lying lifeless on a field to asking who won the game – isn’t getting nearly enough discussion: Hamlin is alive today because he received prompt and high-quality CPR.
What is CPR?
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, is an emergency procedure that can help save a person’s life if they are in cardiac arrest and their heart is unable to pump blood to vital organs in the body.
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CPR is a relatively simple technique, which can be learned and performed by individuals as young as 9 years old. Unfortunately, far too many people who experience a cardiac arrest are not administered CPR, and suffer loss of life or loss of neurologic function because of it.
Worse, Black and Hispanic people are far less likely to receive CPR than their white counterparts, whether an adult or a child. One study found they were 26% less likely to receive at home CPR and 37% less likely to receive CPR in public.
Put another way, as a Black man, Hamlin might not be alive today if his cardiac arrest had occurred anywhere other than on an NFL field, with over 20 medical personnel trained and prepared to respond.
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Learn CPR for Damar Hamlin
But again, anyone can learn CPR.
The American Heart Association and American Red Cross can direct you to classes. And we need to make sure more coaches, trainers, referees and even fellow players of youth sports are trained in how to recognize and respond to a cardiac arrest. Because as long as people continue to play sports – especially sports where there is risk of a sudden impact over the heart – there will be people at risk for cardiac arrest.
And the lesson we all should take from Hamlin’s situation is that even if you or your loved one isn’t an NFL player, they can still survive a tragic event like the one we all witnessed Monday night.
Honor and support Damar Hamlin, and the more than 350,000 people who suffer a cardiac arrest each year, by learning CPR. Because you don’t have to be a medical professional to save a life.
Dr. Jerome Adams., a former U.S. surgeon general, is a distinguished professor and executive director of health equity initiatives at Purdue University and a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors. Follow him on Twitter: @JeromeAdamsMD