350,000 people in the U.S. have a cardiac event every year. Almost none of them are surrounded by the top tier medical personnel and facilities of a National Football League stadium as was the case with Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin.
Dr. Wayne Saltsman, former Chair of the Burlington Board of Health, is still active with the Board of Health in a clinical support capacity. Saltsman explained that a cardiac arrest is the stoppage of the electronic impulse or interruption of the electronic activity in the heart. A heart attack is due to lack of blood flow to the heart muscle.
In both situations the body can’t get blood to the brain rendering the person unconscious. Saltsman commented on Hamlin’s cardiac episode.
“I think they’re still speculating but it’s kind of clear that it was the perfect storm of what’s called Commotio Cordis. A direct chest impact in a millisecond window between the certain phases of the electrical activity of the heart,” Saltsman explained. “It was purely an interruption in the electrical ability of the heart to pump in a life sustaining way”.
The majority of Commotio Cordis cases happen on athletic fields. Hamlin was extremely fortunate to have his cardiac event happen at an NFL stadium.
“You have medical personnel and the ambulance personnel all waiting. If something bad happens they’re there to do what they’ve been trained to do,” said Saltsman.
Cardiac arrest and heart attacks take place everyday with a majority of them happening in the home.
“It could very well happen to any one of us. My biggest recommendation is that people should have a plan. Part of being good citizens is having an understanding of the CPR process and recognizing if somebody becomes unconscious, contacting 911, being able to use an AED (Automated Electronic Defibrillator),” Saltsman said. “The quicker you recognize the need for help and access that help the better the opportunity for improvement that person is going to have.”
Saltsman explained that a number of years ago the Burlington Board of Health had AEDs placed in all Burlington town buildings including the library. Many churches have them as does the Burlington Mall.
Local American Red Cross Instructor Lori Becker has been teaching CPR, AED and First Aid, including choking, in Burlington for years. Becker regularly provides job required CPR training to fitness instructors, daycare providers, dentists, chiropractors and restaurant employees. Becker also provides private training for businesses and groups.
“It tends to be that somebody in the company has had a friend or loved one have a cardiac event and so they feel it’s important to get certified so they can bring it to the office,” said Becker. “In most cases there is a connection with a friend or family member that has recently had an incident”.
According to Becker in the U.S. between 50% and 60% of adults have taken CPR training, but the number who are currently certified is between 15% and 18%.
There are US states that require CPR certification to graduate high school, Massachusetts is not one of those states.
The simple fact is learning Basic Life Support (BLS) can be the difference between life and death. Dr. Saltsman reiterated the substantial life-saving effects of understanding what to do.
“Go online, take the BLS course to get an understanding of the processes and see how you can be of help at the minimum,” said Saltsman. “It’s a wonderful community service we can be prepared to provide for each other.”