On Monday, January 2, 2023, Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin, age 24, collapsed during an NFL game against the Cleveland Browns. Hamlin had just tackled the ball carrier. He got up normally from the play, took two small steps, halted, and collapsed backward.
Medical personnel treated Hamlin on the field. He was later withdrawn by stretcher, put in an ambulance, and taken to the hospital.
Various reports claimed Hamlin was in full cardiac arrest, not breathing, no pulse. The game between the Bills and Browns was postponed.
Several Twitter accounts claimed Hamlin recently told an interviewer he was up to date on his Covid vaccines. Other accounts claimed the NFL required all players to receive a new booster by December 27, 2022.
We could not verify Hamlin’s comments, but the NFL did, indeed, require players and coaches to get a fresh booster for the playoffs. Here’s the headline from NBC Sports:
This led many on Twitter to associate Hamlin’s collapse with the dangerous and ineffective Covid vaccines.
The Official Story
The official story on Hamlin is that his collapse resulted from a blow to the chest received on the play preceding the cardiac incident. People with an MD behind their names flooded twitter with their armchair diagnoses. Comotio cardis was the favored diagnosis. Comotio cardis is extreme arrhythmia caused by a blow to the chest (or other concussive force).
Skeptics argued with this narrative, especially former players and longtime NFL fans. Both had seen thousands of hits to the chest, many much harder than the one that preceded Hamlin’s episode, yet no one could remember ever seeing a similar result.
Yet doctors on Twitter were insistent. ER doctors and cardiologists posted tweets saying that episodes like this happen all the time, but sharp ground balls in baseball are the most common sports cause of the injury. Their insistence did not convince the skeptics who pointed out that those injuries usually happen to little kids, not professional athletes.
I was, of course, watching Game Two of the NHL playoffs between the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings in 1998. Late in the game, Chris Pronger, after a whistle, collapsed on the ice. Moments before his collapse, Pronger had blocked a slap shot from the point.
Blues’ longtime head trainer, Ray Barile, treated Pronger until doctors arrived. After 10 minutes, Pronger was lifted onto a stretcher and removed to a Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
By the time Pronger reached the hospital, his vital signs had returned to normal. Doctors administered a battery of tests and found him completely healthy. Pronger returned to the Blues line-up for the next game. Via KSDK TV in St. Louis:
Yes, a hard blow to the chest, under the right conditions and in the right place, can cause the heart to beat erratically. This arrhythmia can damage the organ by reducing blood flow to the heart muscle. With quick treatment, however, which often is as simple as another thud to the chest or back, the heart can return to normal. But without immediate treatment, someone passed out because of arrhythmia is in dire straights.
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