The Buffalo Bills' 24-year-old football player suffered a heart arrest during a tackle on Monday night in Cincinnati.
Thousands of spectators in the crowded stadium watched as medical personnel revived the man's heartbeat using automated external defibrillation (AED) and CPR. As he was taken away in an ambulance, players and coaches gave each other hugs, sobbed, and prayed.
During a conference call with reporters on Monday night, NFL executive Troy Vincent stated, "Obviously we saw the coaches, players, and those who tuned into the game were traumatized." One of the seasoned players who claimed they had never witnessed anything like it was Vincent, a former cornerback.
However, cardiac arrest itself, as well as the stress it causes, is not uncommon.
It was suspected that commotio cordis was the likely cause of his cardiac arrest as discussed in another article on Damar Hamlin incident puts spotlight on commotio cordis.
According to the American Heart Association, more than 350,000 people in the US have a sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital each year. Whether or not a cardiac arrest occurs on live television, the impact on witnesses is "not just dramatic, but far-reaching," according to Dr. Kelly Sawyer, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Sawyer, who served as the chair of the writing panel for the 2020 AHA scientific statement on cardiac arrest survivability, stated, "It doesn't just happen to an individual."
It impacts those who act, those who don't, and those who feel they might have done more, she said. "It happens to their family, their friends, lay rescuers who may just be in the vicinity." The "spectrum of feelings, emotions, and repercussions can be long-lasting" for any of them, Sawyer added.
Katie Dainty, who served as chair of the writing committee for the 2022 AHA scientific statement on the experiences of common people who witness or respond to cardiac arrests, remarked that we often refer to them as the forgotten patient.
The individual whose life is in jeopardy is rightfully the center of attention during a crisis, according to Dainty. But frequently, "what we call bystanders or lay rescuers are left still at the scene thinking, 'Oh, my goodness, what just happened?'" If they responded and performed CPR, they might worry about whether they did the right thing, or if they just witnessed it, they might be very perplexed about what happened.
A lack of knowledge about the condition might increase anxiety. She said that for those who witnessed Hamlin's collapse, waiting to find out what had happened—which was not revealed until later—would have been "quite a horrible evening."
It may be worse in usual cardiac arrest circumstances, though. Bystanders might never learn what happened unless a witness is a family member. It certainly makes the trauma worse, according to Dainty.
The American Heart Association promotes a new generation of lifesavers to answer to emergency situations like these.
According to her, Monday's occurrence was also upsetting for those who had previously gone through or seen a cardiac arrest. Some of the social media groups with survivors and family that I'm a part of have been very, very emotional.
According to Sawyer, depending on the circumstances, each person who witnesses a cardiac arrest has a different experience. Those who are directly involved may feel guilty as they reflect on their choices.
After a traumatic event, people may find themselves avoiding people or places that remind them of the event, according to Jennifer Sumner, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles who has conducted extensive research on stress, trauma, and heart health. Even if they try to stop talking about it or thinking about it, the thoughts still come to mind.
Additionally, individuals can have nightmares, struggle to focus or sleep, feel socially isolated, or lose interest in activities they used to enjoy.
According to Dainty, some people experience bodily symptoms such as headaches. Some people might feel depressed. Despite not knowing the player personally, everyone can still empathize with him on a human level.
Even for those who afterward feel symptoms, they typically go away on their own with time, according to Sumner, who noted that most people "are extremely resilient with respect to their psychological response to these types of experiences."
People who endure symptoms over the long term that interfere with daily living should consider obtaining treatment from a mental health expert, she said, adding that staying connected to others and continuing meaningful activities can help.
According to Dainty, few services are explicitly geared at witnesses of cardiac arrest. She underlined, however, that fear of trauma or any other kind should never prevent someone from performing CPR.
Anyone, whether trained or not, has the ability to save a life, according to Dainty. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that you apply CPR to an adult or teen by pressing firmly and quickly in the center of the chest for 100 to 120 compressions per minute. Additionally, 911 operators can instruct responders in CPR.
Sawyer stated, "We are aware of the effectiveness of lay rescuer CPR and responsiveness in terms of cardiac arrest outcomes. "Our constant endeavor is to try and increase the number of people who are trained and ready to act."