Damar Hamlin is alive and well, and don’t let social media tell you otherwise.
In the wake of Hamlin’s medical emergency — a life-threatening incident that saw the Buffalo Bills safety collapse on the football field following a routine tackle made in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals — conspiracy theorists and misinformed social media users flooded their platforms with opinions and claims highlighting what they thought happened to Hamlin on Jan. 2.
One theory, in particular, garnered significant traction just hours after Hamlin’s emergency. According to some users, the COVID-19 vaccine was the reason why Hamlin fell into cardiac arrest.
And it was not just ‘run of the mill’ social media users who were spreading this claim.
Charlie Kirk, the founder and president of Turning Point USA, took to his Twitter channel just minutes after Hamlin sustained his injury, hinting that it was unusual for an athlete in impeccable shape to collapse suddenly.
It is important to note that Kirk and his non-profit organization also opposed COVID-19 vaccination guidelines when vaccines were released during the pandemic.
What specialists are saying
While Hamlin and his medical team are the only ones who know the real truth of what caused his cardiac arrest, specialists in the field can share potential answers based on their expertly-trained knowledge of the subject.
Dr. Nakul Sharma, a site lead for cardiology at the Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary examined the role a COVID-19 vaccine could have played in Hamlin’s emergency.
From Sharma’s past experience and knowledge, the cardiologist speculates that Hamlin most likely experienced commotio cordis — a type of irregular heart beat (arrhythmia) that is caused by a concentrated and high-impact force straight to the heart region. More specifically, the left ventricle.
Based on this diagnosis, he believes there is no correlation between Hamlin’s collapse and receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
“There’s been no evidence to link vaccination to development of commotio cordis because by definition commotio cordis means that you have had blunt trauma causing focal defibrillation causing a fatal arrhythmia,” says Sharma.
However, Sharma went on to explain that there have been a select few cases in which COVID-19 vaccines have led to a diagnosis of myocarditis, which is the inflammation of the heart tissue.
While the COVID-19 vaccine has no correlation to developing commotio cordis as commotio cordis is only triggered from blunt trauma to the chest, there is the chance — despite the odds being far less than one per cent — that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine can increase the risk of triggering commotio cordis if myocarditis is developed because of the inflamed muscles in the heart.
“This would be the only hypothetical situation I think could have ever existed: Hamlin gets a vaccine say a month before he goes on the field. He has symptoms or doesn’t have symptoms, it’s not acknowledged by the team doctor. He plays a game [and] that inflammation on the heart increased his risk of developing commotio cordis,” says Sharma.
“So it didn’t cause commotio cordis, it increased his risk of developing it. What caused it was the blunt trauma from the sports player hitting him.”
If all those factors were hypothetically met, Hamlin would still need to have an identical trauma to the chest, like he experienced. Which would remain highly improbable.
Nonetheless, Sharma is adamant that the correlation between COVID-19 vaccines, myocarditis, and commotio cordis is too much of a stretch. Is it statistically possible? Yes, but is it realistically possible? No.
“Just based on statistics, I have never heard of in paper or seen a vaccine cause this, and it’s for what I’ve laid out before. It just doesn’t happen like that,” says Sharma.
As mentioned above, Sharma is fairly certain that Hamlin experienced an episode of commotio cordis caused by blunt force trauma directed straight into his chest.
“There’s certain mechanisms of injury that lead to this sort of diagnosis, and what it does is it causes an arrhythmia known as ventricular fibrillation. Which causes the heart to go into cardiac arrest and that’s what you saw on the field with quick resuscitation and defibrillation,” says Sharma.
Like the rest of us bystanders, Sharma has no access to Hamlin’s medical information or any additional details regarding the incident. His opinions on Hamlin’s injury are formed purely through his long-tenured experience as a cardiologist and the information that has been made available to the public.
“In this particular case, just seeing what you see on the field and also seeing what you see happen afterwards, and the fact that he had to be defibrillated, this is probably the most likely diagnosis. So, it’s unlikely that, in my professional opinion, it’s something else that could have caused [him to collapse] in this particular case.”
It’s also important to note the rarity that commotio cordis occurs, especially in football. According to Sharma, several factors need to be present in order for the often-fatal heart arrhythmia to take place and some of which are difficult to replicate on the football field.
First, the point of impact must be in a concentrated area. The wider spread the hit is, the less likely commotio cordis can occur. Next, is the velocity the impact is made at.
“The [impact] usually requires 30 to 40 kilometers of speed,” says Sharma. “So, to achieve that speed plus the narrowness of the hit would be very hard in football [unless] you had an elbow come up or some kind of equipment or something like that.”
Lastly, the location of the impact must land directly on the heart.
“It’s the orientation. You can’t hit from the side. It’s got to be direct trauma because the way your left side of your heart is, the left chamber is slightly protected by the pectus muscles, the ribs. So, it almost has to be a direct blunt trauma where it’s pinpoint enough and with enough velocity or force,” says Sharma.
Although it’s rare regardless of the sport being played, baseball, lacrosse, and hockey have proven to pose a larger risk in developing commotio cordis just based on the tighter radius and high velocity their sports can create.
In almost all instances in football, the impact of a hit is typically wide spread, with less speed, and is directed away from the center of the chest.
Now, with a newfound knowledge of commotio cordis and what triggers it, we can revisit the play in which Hamlin sustained his injury.
As Hamlin looks to make the tackle, the right shoulder of his opponent drives directly into the center of his chest. It seems that the main point of contact is the chest and no other part of the body seemed to reduce the impact. The impact itself also propels Hamlin backwards, meaning the force was too much for Hamlin to sustain. Seconds later he falls to the ground.
From what the video shows us, each factor needed to develop commotio cordis was present, unless a pre-existing health condition was found by Hamlin’s medical team and was not made known to the public.
Lack of information shared from Hamlin
It can be argued that the lack of information shared to the public by the team, family, and medical staff is what led to the onslaught of false claims being spread across various social media channels.
On Jan. 2, a tweet was shared by the Buffalo Bills stating that Hamlin had “suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in our game versus the Bengals.” Since then the team only provided updates on Hamlin’s health as well as his discharge from the hospital. No further information was provided regarding what injury Hamlin had actually sustained.
More recently, Hamlin sat down with Michael Strahan of Good Morning America, to talk about his injury and his road to recovery since. When asked about the incident and what his doctor’s said happened to him, Hamlin got quiet and seemed to brush off the question.
“That’s something I want to stay away from,” says Hamlin.
With no official update involving the details of the incident, any medical information pertaining to Hamlin — including Sharma’s perspective — must simply be seen as a matter of educated guesses.
This must remain until either Hamlin, or a close associate of his, shares additional information with the public.
From our findings, we can confidently conclude that while there is a small statistical chance that receiving a COVID-19 vaccine could ultimately lead to an increased susceptibility of triggering commotio cordis when taking a heavy impact to the chest, it isn’t enough to believe the claim that COVID-19 vaccines are the reason why Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest while playing football.