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Young athlete suffered commotio cordis while on play luckily saved by CPR and AED

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

CPR and AED Saves Life of Peter Laake Who Suffered Commotio Cordis While On Play
CPR and AED Saves Life of Peter Laake Who Suffered Commotio Cordis While On Play

The Damar Hamlin incident in Monday night football startled our country, putting Commotio Cordis and CPR in the spotlight and reminding us of the significance of CPR training to respond to circumstances like these.

Peter Laake was a freshman starting defense for his prep school's varsity lacrosse team. On April 16, 2021, while having a successful year, his club was playing a major opponent on their home field in Towson, Maryland.

As the first quarter came to a close, the ball struck Peter in the chest. His mother, who was seated in the stands, heard the ball hit the ground before seeing her son move a few paces. Carron Laake remarked, "I watched his legs kind of flop in the air."

Peter swung around to follow the ball's trail. "I then became woozy." He fell over backward.

One of the first people to reach Peter was the head athletic trainer at the school, Jeremy Parr. He believed Peter had either had an abdominal injury or lost his wind. He then noticed that Peter was not moving and that his respiration was difficult, gurgling, and gasping.

When Parr and the team physician were unable to locate a pulse, they flipped Peter onto his back and took off his safety equipment. While Parr sent another trainer to the sidelines to get the AED, or automated external defibrillator, the team doctor started performing CPR.

Dr. Robert Dudas was watching his son play for the competing school from the stands. He was looking down at his phone just before the collision. Peter's stumbling steps and subsequent collapse were visible as he glanced up.

Dudas could tell that Peter's injury wasn't a typical lacrosse injury because he fell face-first without extending his hands to cushion the blow.

To get to the field, Dudas leaped over a wall. He stood near Peter's torso to check for a pulse, while Parr and the team doctor joined him. He observed that the team doctor performed textbook chest compressions: 2 inches deep, 100 to 120 repetitions per minute, with no breaks. Dudas was alerted that time was running out by the welt on Peter's chest.

He uttered the words, "This is commotio cordis."

The term "commotio cordis" (Latin for "agitation of the heart") refers to a condition in which an otherwise healthy heart's electrical circuitry is disturbed by a projectile striking the chest at a certain interval between heartbeats. Damar Hamlin, a member of the Buffalo Bills who suffered a heart attack after making a tackle in a recent NFL game, may have experienced this.

Scientists hypothesize that because young people's chest walls are more malleable, adolescent athletes are particularly vulnerable. 95 percent of instances that are documented are in males, which is consistent with their participation in the activities that have the most commotio cordis cases, such as baseball, hockey, and lacrosse.

The group gathered around Peter was expanding on that April day. Ahead of her son's head, Carron was now. Peter's father stood at his feet. Two ICU nurses had exited the audience to provide assistance. An emergency response-trained local fire chief was present.

She spoke with her son, Carron. She made an effort to calm and reassure him. Her father's passing had been one year ago. She had gone to the game with the intention of using it to get through the day. She fixed her gaze on her son's still head. She pushed him to open his eyes. We're losing him," she then heard.

The CPR was still in progress when the other trainer returned from the sidelines carrying the AED. Once Parr had set up the AED's electrode pads and the device had assessed Peter's heart rhythm and determined that a shock was necessary, it gave the all-clear.

Peter didn't immediately react to the shock. Dudas experienced nausea.

The team physician continued CPR. Parr got ready to give another shock. Dudas then detected a pulse. He exclaimed, "Hold tight! I think I have something faint!"

Peter moved. Then, as his mother recalled, "he simply popped right up."

Peter recalls the event as a hazy relic in a shattered reality, straining to open his eyes while hearing words he couldn't understand. "There was this swarm around me, and I struggled to sit up."

People in the stands slowly stood up and cheered as an ambulance pulled up. Many people started crying.

Peter spent the night at a nearby hospital. Over the course of two weeks, a number of tests found nothing abnormal. The only wounds Peter had were a bruise from the blow and some stiffness from the punctures. In three weeks, he was back on the lacrosse field.

Carron admitted that he was initially terrified that he might return. She still finds it difficult to see Peter on the field. She tells herself that Peter enjoys the sport and that the near-tragic event resulted from a strange accident. He recently verbally committed to play for the University of Maryland.

Now that her family has received CPR training, they always check to make sure an AED is nearby wherever Peter is playing.

Peter's life was saved by the good fortune of having it happen in front of an all-star cast – athletic trainers, emergency medicine doctors, and ICU nurses trained in emergency response. Most circumstances don't require that level of medical knowledge. The possibility of possessing all those resources, according to Parr, is extremely doubtful. So at the very least, be sure you have access to an AED.

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