Damar Hamlin Injury Sheds Light On SCA

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Available this morning to the NFL and its television partners is a transformative act of appreciation for Damar Hamlin’s recovery. 

Never has the world learned so much in one week about sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).  Among discoveries from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • SCA is the leading cause of death among young athletes in the U.S.
  • 2,000 Americans under age 25 die each year of SCA.
  • One American high school student dies every three days of SCA.

SCA sends the victim’s heart into an erratic, disorganized rhythm, known as ventricular fibrillation.  The afflicted heart needs to be shocked back into its normal beat….and quickly.

The essential determining factor between death and survival of SCA is time to defibrillation.  When vital organs are deprived of blood and oxygen for more than one minute, a patient’s chance of survival begins to decline.  Between three and four minutes, the mortality rate spikes above 90%.

Damar Hamlin is the rare victim whose medical team treated him within seconds.  For a high school athlete, the best hope is that an automatic external defibrillator (AED) is standing by, along with an athletic trainer.

Approximately 80-to-85% of U.S. schools have at least one AED, but the reality is that two are needed – one in the gymnasium, the other located among football/baseball/soccer/lacrosse fields.  SCA does not wait for rescuers to retrieve a distant AED, and certainly does not wait for ambulance dispatch.

This is the kind of problem the NFL attacks with unmatched skill and experience.  Its three leading charitable campaigns – Crucial Catch (cancer awareness), Salute to Service and Inspire Change – are wildly successful.  

Damar Hamlin was treated within seconds of experiencing SCA. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Hamlin Scare Should Force NFL To Make Changes

No organization is more capable of taking a cause, branding it, scaling it and maximizing crowd-sourced funding.  In this case, we add a ripe, highly publicized environment.  

It will take more planning than the current “Did We Win?” T-shirt sales.  But by Draft Week or Opening Week in September, the NFL is entirely capable of pledging two AEDs in every middle and high school in the country.  

The need is 40,000 AEDs at $750 apiece.  Total cost: $30 million.  Let’s begin with a $5 million donation from the NFL Foundation, plus $1 million each from the League’s five television partners – CBS, NBC, FOX, ESPN and Amazon Prime Video.

On its many platforms, the League will solicit donations from fans and sponsors.  This is their medium to give thanks for Damar’s outcome.

The networks will participate, more than merely airing public service announcements, by producing meaningful content.  On the FOX pre-game, let’s outfit Michael Strahan in football gear, lay him on the studio floor as if stricken, cue an EMT team to begin CPR chest compression, cut off his jersey, and place the AED pads on his chest.            

This is the process that saved an NFL life last Monday.  Teenage athletes deserve no less.

More Attention To SCA

Damar will enthusiastically put his name on this initiative.  Social media floodgates will open.  NFL players, coaches, alumni will endorse, match donations, urge their followers to contribute.  Within one week, the campaign will be viral.

Once funds are raised, to extend the NFL’s connection, AEDs can be distributed via the League’s 32 clubs.  Each qualifying school will also receive an NFL-standard emergency action plan to implement with its staff.

Every gift to every school is another media opportunity to reinforce the message.  And soon enough, just like Damar Hamlin’s miracle, we’ll hear of a high school sudden-cardiac victim whose life was saved by a newly deployed AED.

Written by Terry O'Neil

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