After Damar Hamlin tragedy, health leaders urge wider CPR training

The Buffalo Bills player remains hospitalized as millions pray for his recovery. Doctors stress the importance of CPR training, since most who suffer cardiac arrest outside a hospital don’t survive.

As Damar Hamlin remains hospitalized, healthcare experts said it's critical to get more people trained in CPR.

Hamlin, a defensive back with the Buffalo Bills, suffered cardiac arrest in a nationally televised NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals Monday night, the Bills said. Hamlin remains in the intensive care unit at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he has shown "remarkable improvement," the Bills said Thursday.

“While still critically ill, he has demonstrated that he appears to be neurologically intact," the Bills said in a statement Thursday morning. "His lungs continue to heal and he is making steady progress."

Hamlin’s heartbeat was restored on the field, and he was given prompt medical attention. But many who suffer cardiac arrest outside a hospital don’t recover.

Only about one in 10 people survive cardiac arrest outside the hospital, according to the American Heart Association. However, if that individual receives CPR right away, it can double or triple the victim’s chance of survival, the heart association says.

Only about 35% to 45% of those who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospital get CPR from a bystander, according to a study published in Circulation last March. Less than 20% of Americans receive training in CPR or the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED). The study also notes that immediate CPR, even from a bystander, significantly improves the chances of survival.

“Given the extensive benefits of bystander CPR, increasing the low rates of performance becomes a clear target for intervention,” the authors wrote.

About 70% of cases of cardiac arrest outside the hospital occur in a home, and most homes don’t have AED devices available.

“Recognizing a cardiac arrest, calling 911 immediately, performing CPR and using an AED as soon as it is available are critical for survival,” Mariell Jessup, chief science and medical officer of the American Heart Association, said in a statement. “Statistically speaking, it is likely that the person will need to be helped by a family member or a friend in order to survive.”

Rehan Karim, a cardiac electrophysiologist with Hennepin Healthcare in Minnesota, talked with KARE-TV about the importance of CPR training.

“Early CPR is the key to recovery,” Karim told KARE-TV.

The heart association says hands-only CPR, which is easy to learn, can dramatically improve the chances a victim can survive. Bystanders should call emergency services and push hard and fast in the center of the chest at a rate of 100-120 beats per minute, the heart association says. (Here’s an American Heart Association training video on performing hands-only CPR. The story continues below.)

Dr. Raed Bargout, a cardiologist at Dignity Health Glendale Memorial Hospital, told KTLA-TV that bystanders can save lives with CPR, but they have a better chance to revive a victim with proper training.

Training courses only take a few hours and can help ensure bystanders perform “high quality” CPR, he told KTLA. Some bystanders, and even some medical personnel, don’t press hard or fast enough when performing CPR, he said.

“I wish everyone was certified to do CPR, because you never know when you’re going to need it,” Bargout told KTLA.

Hamlin, who is 24 years old, collapsed after a collision on the field Monday night. His heartbeat was restored on the field, the Bills said. A stunned national audience, and heartbroken players on both teams, watched in disbelief as medical personnel worked to revive him.

Doctors have said it’s possible Hamlin suffered commotio cordis, a rare event when a sudden blow to the chest causes sudden death even if there is no other cardiac damage.

It’s also possible he suffered hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) or a thickened heart muscle, which is a more common cause of cardiac arrest in young people, the American Heart Association said. HCM is often not diagnosed, because there are few symptoms, the Mayo Clinic says.

NFL players, coaches and fans have rallied to support Hamlin, sending prayers, good wishes and donations. Hamlin, a native of the Pittsburgh area, organized a toy drive for children with a modest goal of $2,500. As of Wednesday night, the fund had received more than $6.6 million.