Make your home page

Athletic directors talk about preparing for medical incidents at sporting events

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Protocol and properly trained staff are the keys to a quick response time in a medical emergency during an athletic event, according to Indiana experts.

Not all athletic events will have the resources available at the NFL level, but having a plan is possible for everyone, says Ralph Reiff, a Butler University senior associate athletic director and athletic trainer.

“The ability to build an emergency action plan is available to everyone,” Reiff said.

Athletic trainers say they are something of a jack-of-all-trades. They have to know what to do in every situation, including rare cases of cardiac arrest, which was what was seen in the Buffalo Bills game at Cincinnati on Monday night when Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed.

“You are truly into a zone of high-level expertise because you have rehearsed it, you’ve practiced it,” Reiff said. “It’s performing the task, and you aren’t emotional because your brain is occupied.”

Will Carroll is a sportswriter who has reported on countless medical incidents during athletic events. He said the response time is key. “They had to cut away the shoulder pads, which tend to go down below the chest to get the defibrillator pads in place,” Carroll said. “So everything that was in place, everything that could go right in a situation that could go wrong seemed to.”

Carroll said high school and collegiate athletic events do not have unlimited resources and often a single athletic trainer keeps student-athletes safe.

Shay Howard, an athletic trainer with Indianapolis Public Schools, said, “When any event happens, whether it’s an emergency or something simple, you automatically step into action and do what you’ve learned and what you’ve been trained to do.”

“If this happened to be me when this incident occurred, I would honestly just be wracking my brain thinking what this could be, what I need to do next, who do I need to contact. It’s honestly just using the skills that we have been taught,” Howard said.

Dr. Eric Krivitsky, an electrophysiologist with Indiana Heart Physicians, said the initial response is crucial in recovery; after 10 minutes without blood flow, the chance for a normal recovery is less than 10%.

Krivitsky said, “But if we can perform high-quality CPR immediately and defibrillation as soon as possible, the chance for a meaningful recovery is as high as 90%.”

The key in these emergency situations is preparedness, having both a plan in place and people there who can execute it.

Both of these athletic trainers, said they start every athletic event with a meeting between all medical personnel on site to go over the emergency protocols in place.