PUEBLO, Colorado — The on-field collapse and subsequent recovery of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin has brought increased attention across America to heart conditions. It's a cause that Pueblo sports physician Dr. Rocky Kholsa has been concerned about for young athletes for years.
He was watching the game Monday night and immediately worried Hamlin could be suffering from a deadly condition called ventricular fibrillation.
"I was thinking, oh my God, I hope that's not the case, and I hope there's a defibrillator," Kholsa recalled.
Cardiac episodes in sports are rare compared to other injuries. Yet when they happen, they can be fatal.
"The drop in survival rate is 7-10 percent per minute," Khosla said.
A study published in 2013 found sudden cardiac arrest was the leading cause of death in high school and college football players. Dr. Khosla said one type of cardiac event occurs more frequently in athletes.
"The leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest in the active athlete population under 35 is a thing called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, fancy words, we call it HCM," he explained. "Basically, the heart muscle thickens in the middle. Electrically, it's abnormal and at any point, it can throw bad arrhythmias. Ventricular fib is the one that kills people."
He says professional medical groups like the American Heart Association and American Academy of Pediatrics now recommend that doctors screen student-athletes for potential heart conditions like HCM as part of their yearly physical exams.
In 2018, Khosla encouraged schools in Pueblo County to go one step further and buy Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs.)
"It's pretty much idiot proof, I mean they have these things now in the airports. Bystanders have been shown to be really effective. You just open the case, and as soon as you turn it on the voice starts talking to you."
He said the devices will only work if the patient has a "shockable" heart rhythm. They will not shock a patient by mistake.
Every school in Districts 60 and 70 now has AED units at the ready. Three additional AEDs are located at Dutch Clark Stadium.
"If there's a chance this could happen and we could save a life, how do we justify not doing it."
A key warning sign for HCM is if a student has ever passed out or felt dizzy as if they were about to pass out after really straining themselves on the practice field or during a game.
If that is the case, he recommends contacting your doctor to consider more testing.
Watch KOAA News5 on your time, anytime with our free streaming app available for your Roku, FireTV, AppleTV and Android TV. Just search KOAA News5, download and start watching.