With Damar Hamlin's collapse in mind, high schools have emergency plans in place

Glenbrook South High School Athletic Director Tom Mietus thought two things as the Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin was being treated for cardiac arrest during Monday's football game in Cincinnati.

One, an incident like that happened previously at Glenbrook South.

Two, the importance of medical training and its swift application saved Hamlin's life.

“A remarkable training program,” Mietus said. “That's really what saved his life (Monday). Medical professionals responded on the spot, right away. There was an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) there and he was revived because of that.”

The 24-year-old Hamlin — who tackled Cincinnati Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, got to his feet and immediately collapsed — remained in critical condition Wednesday at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

The terrifying incident occurred in front of a nationwide audience on “Monday Night Football,” and has sparked conversations about the preparedness of local high schools in the event something similar occurs.

Thanks to regulations at the state and school district levels, officials say proper procedures are in place.

Mietus recalled that, in 2017, girls track coach Danny Zapler led a medical response to a Titans athlete who collapsed in the Glenview high school's field house while warming up. Mietus, along with a student and Glenbrook South athletic trainer Megan Shipp, used cardiopulmonary resuscitation and an AED before emergency personnel arrived. The athlete survived.

“I think just the experience of what happened (with Hamlin) reiterates the importance of not only having our coaches CPR- and AED-trained, but just having those protocols and practicing them,” Mietus said.

Worst-case scenario

According to a 2016 report by the American College of Sports Medicine, the incidence of sudden cardiac death among high school athletes was 1 in 50,000 to 1 in 80,000. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2014 estimated that 2,000 Americans under the age of 25 died annually from sudden cardiac arrest, with males being more at risk.

Statistics like that concern Chris Murphy, a longtime athletic trainer at Glenbard East High School in Lombard. But he and others at Glenbard East are ready if pressed into action.

Murphy said coaches in Glenbard High School District 87 are required to be certified in CPR and AED usage. That extra training is imperative, he said, due to a shortage of athletic trainers at high schools, especially in the spring when multiple events and practices occur at the same time.

“You're preparing for that worst-case scenario all the time, hoping it doesn't happen,” Murphy said. “You have your pieces in place and you have to be ready to go at a moment's notice. That instinct and training takes over when you get put in that scenario.”

The ACSM report concluded, “Reports have shown that 60% to 80% of athletes who experienced SCD did not have warning signs or symptoms and cardiac arrest was the first manifestation of their disease.”

However, the Illinois High School Association website cited a 2012 study of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine that said 72% of students who suffered from sudden cardiac arrest were reported by their parents to have experienced at least one symptom prior to the incident, but didn't see it as life threatening.

Potential warning signs, the IHSA website noted, include dizziness, nausea or vomiting, fainting or blackouts, chest pain, shortness of breath, unusual fatigue or weakness, or heart palpitations.

Every base covered

In November 2019, Dundee-Crown High School coaches and an athletic trainer saved the life of a student who collapsed and went into cardiac arrest during a basketball practice. They performed CPR and then used an AED to shock the teen.

CPR and AED training was credited with saving the student's life. The requirement of every IHSA school to have an Emergency Action Plan also proved critical.

Batavia Athletic Director Dave Andrews said his coaches are required to be CPR certified, and must be retrained every two years. Andrews said there is an AED in the school's main gymnasium, field house and in the hallway outside the weight room in addition to portable AEDs for outdoor usage.

It's all part of the school's established emergency plan.

“Thank goodness the IHSA does push these safety plans,” Andrews said. “We have to have an EAP for each one of our facilities.”

Illinois law dictates that AEDs be present in every physical fitness facility. More are warranted depending on the size of the facility and the number of people using it. For outdoor activities, the device must be housed in a building within 300 feet of the activity.

While recognizing the NFL has far superior resources than high schools, as evidenced by the response from medical personnel on Monday, Murphy said high school officials are doing what they can.

“You'd be hard-pressed to find a school around here that doesn't have an Emergency Action Plan in place,” Murphy said. “Just making sure everyone knows their role is important.”

Because Batavia already has its EAP, and because the school is still on its holiday break, Andrews said he doesn't know if there will be administrative discussions about enhancing the plan in the wake of Monday's incident.

When he came to school Tuesday morning, though, he made sure of one thing.

“I went right to my trainers and said, ‘Hey, are we good with our AEDs and EAPs?'” he said. “We all just want to make sure we're ready.”

Tom Mietus
Buffalo Bills players and staff pray for Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals Monday. Hamlin was injured and remains in critical condition. Associated Press
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.