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Confronting sudden cardiac arrest in America

Medical professionals lament how quickly ESPN cut away from the life-saving actions of medical staff after the collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin


Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin is examined during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, in Cincinnati.

AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel

The collapse of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin in front of a national audience on live television stunned millions, and left players, fans and viewers in shock.

As medical personnel rushed to help the 24-year-old, who suffered a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), ESPN cut away from the chaos – a move that Bob Davis, a journalist and former paramedic, didn’t agree with.

Davis, who wrote a series of articles for USA Today in 2005 examining EMS across the country, wrote in a social post that the incident was a chance for millions of Americans to see what a sudden cardiac arrest looks like, and understand the urgency of receiving emergency care.

“When a victim is lucky enough to be near people who witness the collapse, they are extremely lucky when those ‘bystanders’ recognize the urgent need for CPR and an Automated External Defibrillator (AED),” Davis wrote. “Tragically, people often don’t get it, so they dial 911, then stand around looking at each other anxiously until rescue crews arrive.”

Hamlin’s collapse, he said, gave attendees at the game a unique look at what SCA looks like, how to recognize it, and, ultimately, what to do: “If you saw Hamlin collapse, you now know what sudden cardiac arrest looks like. It looks like fainting. The person drops, they may gasp a few times for more air, then they are still – lifeless.”

He continued: “Had ESPN been able to provide play-by-play commentary, the public would have seen how simple it is to save a life. How pushing on the chest was moving blood. How the pads applied to the chest would determine if a shock was needed. Then, as everyone was told to ‘clear’ and not touch Hamlin, how the simple push of a button delivered the only thing in the world that could return him to a normal life – a defibrillator shock.”

Davis’ words were championed by fellow medical professionals, including Tom Bouthillet, battalion chief of EMS for Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue.

“I understand why ESPN cut to a commercial,” Bouthillet wrote in a social post sharing Davis’ comments. “On the other hand, did they inadvertently deprive millions of viewers the opportunity to witness how a life can be saved using CPR and defibrillation? Maybe if Damar survives this event, the footage can be released, metrics like time to recognition, first compression, and first shock can be measured, and this can become a teachable moment, beyond the platitude, ‘Learn CPR!’”


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Rachel Engel is an award-winning journalist and the senior editor of and In addition to her regular editing duties, Engel seeks to tell the heroic, human stories of first responders and the importance of their work. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma, and began her career as a freelance writer, focusing on government and military issues. Engel joined Lexipol in 2015 and has since reported on issues related to public safety. Engel lives in Wichita, Kansas. She can be reached via email.