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Athletic Trainers & AEDs: First Line of Defense for Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Young Athletes

Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Young Athletes

Introducing Mike Hopper, Head Athletic Trainer (AT) at Bishop Lynch High School in Dallas, TX and the passionate guest author of this article. With a masters degree in pediatric sports medicine and over 13 years of experience as an athletic trainer, Mike is a subject matter expert with a passion for student health and safety. In 2017, Bishop Lynch High School had a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) save on their campus, which only strengthened his desire to raise awareness for cardiac arrest in young athletes and advocate for AEDs in schools.

Here’s what a 13 year AT wants you to know about Sudden Cardiac Arrest in young athletes. 

Risks For Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Young Athletes

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a life threatening emergency medical condition where the heart unexpectedly stops beating. SCA impacts people of all ages, genders, and demographic backgrounds, and, if not treated immediately, will lead to death. To restore a heart to its normal rhythm and provide the best chances of survival, it is crucial to start CPR and use an Automated External Defibrillator, or AED, as quickly as possible. 

Despite a proven therapy, cardiac arrest is the #1 cause of death for student athletes and the leading cause of death on school campuses. Basketball and high intensity sports are risk factors for cardiac arrest, and strenuous exercise increases the risk of SCA by up to 5 times for those who have underlying heart conditions or structural disorders. Studies have shown that student athletes in general are up to 3x more likely to experience a cardiac arrest when compared to non-athletes. 

Additionally, 1 in 300 youth athletes have an undiagnosed heart condition. In America alone, that’s over 27,000 athletes who are at a greater risk of cardiac arrest, assuming there are 8 million high school aged athletes. So many of us saw Damar Hamlin collapse on Monday Night Football from what has been described as commotio cordis, or cardiac arrest caused by an object striking the chest. Commotio Cordis is extremely rare (<30 per year I’ve seen reported) but also requires immediate AED access to have a positive outcome. 

We had a Sudden Cardiac Arrest event on our campus in February 2017. While the AED did not shock our patient, we had applied the unit in less than 2 minutes and were ready to do so if needed. CPR saved this man’s life, but I can tell you that we’re never far from an AED around here, and when we travel with teams, the AED is always close by. 

Athletic Trainers: The First Line of Defense

Athletic Trainers are often the first line of defense for a student-athlete suffering from SCA. From preparation on the front end–creating Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) and training – to executing that plan when an incident occurs, ATs are the first responders. A 2018 study by Drezner, Peterson, et al. found exercise-related SCA to have survival rates of 48%, which is significantly higher than the national average which is less than 10%. The researchers concluded that because exercise-related cardiac arrests are usually witnessed (in a sports game, practice, or in a gym) immediate resuscitation with CPR and an AED is often provided, which leads to better outcomes. 

Rapid CPR and early defibrillation provide the highest chances of survival from SCA. The study also notes that bystander CPR resulted in 63% survival, and 83% survival when an AT was present. An AED resulted in an 89% survival rate in their study! 

Creating A Culture of Preparedness 

Beyond school administrations taking responsibility to ensure the safety of their students and staff, parents need to ask the hard questions and demand to know where the AED is located in relation to their child’s sporting events. And if the school or league tells you they don’t have one or it’s locked up in an office somewhere, parents need to advocate for change. AEDs should be readily available and easily accessible during all sporting events. 

From a primary prevention perspective, a quality physical exam each year, which ideally includes an EKG and an echocardiogram, would most likely be considered a best practice. As an AT, I focus more on the secondary prevention side of things with having a solid EAP and readily available equipment and trained personnel.

In terms of getting more AEDs in schools and youth athletic clubs, money is always a barrier and it’ll always be a perceived barrier. There’s no doubt about that AEDs are expensive, but when you break down the costs it’s not as much as people think it is. 

A Game Changer: The Avive Connect AED®

Avive Connect AED in trainer's bag

I know the Avive Connect AED is going to be a game changer in this market. Its light weight and ability to be taken anywhere is going to be amazing. At a previous school, we had a coach who carried an AED in her medical kit, and the Avive Connect AED will fit into so many more bags than previous units. For us personally, these units are going to fit so much better into our trauma backpacks than our current units, allowing us to carry even more important life-saving equipment.

A first-of-its-kind feature we’re excited about is the accessibility of Emergency Incident Data. Paramedics now will have the ability to immediately pull data from the Avive Connect AED using a QR code, which will simplify the transition of care. Downstream medical providers will also have access to this data using the Incident ID #, potentially even before the patient arrives at the hospital.

Last feature that will be useful for our school is the ability to swap out pads and create a training unit. I know we’ll be utilizing this function and I’d encourage other schools and organizations to do so as well. Successful cardiac arrest outcomes most often come from rehearsing and training, and it’s a huge advantage that we’ll be able to do that literally with the exact same equipment as we would use in an emergency with the Avive Connect AED.

Closing Thoughts

Everybody associated with athletics should be trained in CPR. Whether you’re coaching, you’re an official, or you’re an administrator, CPR training is so critical and there’s no excuse not to have it! 

At the risk of sounding daunting, it’s not a matter of if your school will have a Sudden Cardiac Arrest event, but when. Research has shown that 2 out of 50, or 1 out of every 25 high schools can expect to have a SCA event on their campuses each year. Schools must be prepared to respond to cardiac emergencies with CPR training, an Avive Connect AED, and a well rehearsed emergency action plan to provide their community with the best chances of survival. 

Avive Solutions is changing the game by creating accessibility that didn’t exist before. From creating a device that is incredibly lightweight and portable to considering affordability and an ability to purchase directly will encourage getting AEDs wherever they’re needed.

To browse and learn more about the Avive Connect AED
and an entire line of AED accessories, visit their online store.

cardiac arrest in youth athletes

About the Author

I’ve been an Athletic Trainer for 13 years and just started year 10 here at BL. Have a bachelors degree from Southeast Missouri State University and a masters degree in pediatric sports medicine from the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine. I have been a CPR instructor through the American Heart Association for ~8 years and have trained hundreds of coaches, school employees, and students in basic CPR skills. We had an SCA save on our campus in 2017 and so while I was already an advocate for this topic, this has increased that awareness.

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