Working in medicine and responding to a medical emergency on your day off is surreal. I work in Family Medicine, and one day I was at the ballpark watching my son play baseball. He is twelve and just started a few years earlier.
On a field next to mine is where the emergency situation took place. I didn’t see it directly, but I was quickly told what had happened when I arrived at the scene. Any lack of action could have been disastrous to an already delicate situation. It was also surprising how many people did not know what was happening. It is vital that we all become more aware!
The player affected was the pitcher. His name is Dougie, and he was a good pitcher and a promising young man.
His game was in the fifth inning, and there was no one out and one person on first base. He had been doing a good job in the game. He had struck out three. The game was tied 4-4. He threw his pitch to the batter, who hit the ball directly back at the pitcher.
Dougie tried catching the ball and turned his body forward. I guess normally he would have been sideways with his left shoulder toward home plate. He tried catching the ball but missed, and the ball ended up hitting him directly in the chest.
This type of play has happened many times before. Whether in the field, pitching, catching, or even batting, a player gets hit with the ball in the chest. Most of the time, he or she gets up with a bruised chest and a bruised ego.
However, for Dougie, this did not happen. The ball thudded against his chest, probably the left side, but once he fell down, he did not get up again. In fact, his heart stopped working. There was a slight delay as most onlookers did not know what was happening. The players and coaches reacted first, followed by some of the fans.
That’s when the screaming started. I heard the screaming from the other stands and sprinted around, trying to find out what was happening. I assumed a player had injured his ankle sliding into a base. I’ve heard that type of screaming before.
However, the crowd was near the pitcher’s mound. I sprinted to the pitcher’s mound, where the crowd had gathered.
Dougie was already turning a whitish blue. It was clear that he was not getting any air. I quickly felt for a pulse and listened for a heartbeat. Hearing and feeling nothing, I placed him on his back and started doing chest compressions.
Someone tried knocking my hands away, saying, “He was hit in the chest. You are going to make things worse. What happens if he has cracked ribs?”
Someone else added, “There are too many people around the boy. Just give him some room, and he’ll be all right. The boy just needs to catch his breath.”
“What happened?” I demanded.
One of the baseball coaches kneeling down explained, “The batter hit a ball that hit Dougie in the chest. He dropped to the ground immediately and stopped moving.”
“Call an ambulance,” I said. “I’m a doctor, and you need to call the ambulance right now.”
The entire time, despite whoever tried pushing my hands away, I continued CPR. I gave him some breaths of oxygen, but only a few, and continued chest compressions.
Truthfully, my compressions likely did little to help Dougie, though I’d like to think that they helped. Luckily, an ambulance was really close by, and they arrived at the scene a minute after the phone call was placed.
“I’m a doctor,” I said to the oncoming paramedic. “This boy took a baseball to the chest, and his heart isn’t working. We need a defibrillator.”
The paramedic agreed, and quickly the boy was placed on a backboard, and a defibrillator was used. The paramedics took over the care of the boy. As they continued working on the boy, he was moved to the back of the ambulance.
The use of the defibrillator is likely what saved the boy’s life. Dougie was loaded up in the ambulance and taken to the local hospital. They wasted no time from the moment they arrived to when they left.
Dougie had what is called Commotio Cordis, a condition of impact at the heart at the precise moment – something like 15 milliseconds between beats can cause the heart to stop working. It has been talked about in medical circles for hundreds of years. They also did studies in the ‘30s. But it came more to the forefront back in the 1990s following a series of articles, but it wasn’t until the internet that it became more commonly known.
However, by the reactions of the parents I was around, many are still unaware of this condition.
Often the impact is blunt and can happen from a ball, a bat, or something else. The condition causes the heart to go into an arrhythmia and stop. It was one of the scariest things I’ve seen.
This condition is often seen in those who play baseball and lacrosse but can happen in almost any sport. It doesn’t have to happen in sports alone, and other cases have been seen in car accidents, child abuse, falling from a tree, and more.
Dougie was one of the lucky ones. Almost 70% of the individuals who get Commotio Cordis, the person dies. Around 15-20 cases happen every year. Coaches are being trained on the use of defibrillators.
Another important improvement is “heart guards” or “chest guards,” and many children are starting to wear these protective layers over their hearts. They can be found online or at many sporting goods stores. Most look like compression shirts with plastic or extra padding. They can be lifesavers.
We all need to do whatever it takes to keep kids safe, especially if they are playing sports.