Cardiac arrest in youth sports, athletic trainers' preparedness key

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is awake and has shown "remarkable improvement" over the past 24 hours after suffering cardiac arrest on the field during Monday's game, hospital officials and teammates said Thursday. 

Dr. William Knight credited the quick medical response with saving Hamlin's life. He said a physician was at Hamlin’s side within a minute of him collapsing and recognized that the defensive back did not have a pulse. Knight said Hamlin required CPR and resuscitation on the field.

Doctors have not said exactly what cause Hamlin to go into cardiac arrest, but it is the type of thing all athletic trainers should be prepared for, according to Chris Geiser, Marquette University's program director of athletic training. It's something he emphasizes with students.

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"It’s rare for that to happen in a professional sport. These guys have a lot of strength and bulk between their heart, but it is a violent game and some pretty big hits happen. It’s really a problem in youth sports where they’re really under-covered," Geiser said. "A lot of youth sports go on without an athletic trainer or proper medical coverage, and this can happen any time, and that puts people at risk."

Geiser said he believes it was a rare case of a blow to the chest at the wrong spot at exactly the wrong time – stopping the heart. Though still very uncommon, he said it's more likely to happen in sports like youth hockey.

"If you can afford to have athletics and sports, they should be affording to have athletic trainers around and be prepared for these things," Geiser said. "Athletic trainers are really the types of people you want in your corner when something like this happens, and they should be around all sporting events."

"If there’s any take-home message from this event, it’s learn how to do CPR and be able to intervene quickly, and that’s exactly what happened on the field," said Kim Litwack, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing.

At a news conference, Dr. Timothy Pritts said neurological signs of improvement began Wednesday night as Hamlin gradually woke up, with the rest of his body healing. Hamlin was able to communicate by writing and asked who won the Bills-Bengals game. He cannot speak because of a breathing tube in his throat. 

Litwack said the fact that Hamlin's brain is reportedly working is the best news possible.

"If his brain is working, he’s got good blood flow," she said. "Now, the key is to get him off the ventilator and get him on the road to recovery."

FOX TV Digital contributed to this report.