FENNVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — During the Bills game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday, Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field when he went into cardiac arrest.

The NFL says Hamlin is in critical condition.

After his collapse, cardiologists and a West Michigan nonprofit are bringing awareness about AED devices and how to help if someone goes into cardiac arrest.

Dr. Ronald Grifka, the chief medical officer with University of Michigan Health West, said acting quickly is crucial.

“For every one minute that CPR and the defibrillator is delayed your chance of survival drops 10%,” Grifka said.

Grifka, a pediatric cardiologist, watched as the game was suspended and medical professionals began CPR and brought out the AED.

“He’s a professional athlete, so he has been screened and tested for a lot of the routine heart problems that could cause cardiac arrest on the field,” Grifka said. “So this is most likely something we call ‘commotio cordis.’ It’s a Latin word. It means concussion of the heart.”

Grifka said passing out was a sign of ventricular fibrillation.

“Normally the heart is a strong muscle, it squeezes and pumps blood to the body. With ventricular fibrillation it’s really just quivering and not pumping any blood to the body at all, so you pass out and you have a cardiac arrest,” Grifka said.

He said while going into cardiac arrest through an impact to the heart is rare, it can happen.

“It’s a disruption of the normal heart rhythm that occurs with a blow to the chest directly over the heart at a very crucial small time period during the heart’s beating cycle. It’s only one or two milliseconds during every heartbeat that the heart is susceptible to a blow to the chest going into this abnormal heart rhythm,” Grifka said.

Doctors are reminding people of the importance of having AEDs available and being prepared to react.  

“When someone passes out the most important thing to do is to check for a pulse. If there’s no pulse immediately begin CPR and get the defibrillator because a defibrillator will save a life. A lot of people are afraid to use defibrillators, but the good news is you turn the defibrillator on, put the pads on the patient and if the patient needs a shock it will deliver a shock, but if the patient does not need a shock it will not deliver a shock,” Grifka said.

The Wes Leonard Heart Team is a foundation that raises money to buy AEDs for youth sports and to bring awareness to cardiac arrest in sports.

The collapse of NFL player Demar Hamlin Monday night hits too close to home for the family of Wes Leonard.

“It brought a flood of emotions back that I wasn’t too keen on having back and it just — the helplessness look in all the players and coaches,” Mitchell Leonard, the brother of Wes Leonard, said.

Wes Leonard suffered cardiac arrest in 2011 after making a game-winning shot for his high school basketball team.

To honor his memory, his family and former coach started the Wes Leonard Heart Team and has raised money to provide more than 500 AEDs to schools and youth athletic centers in Michigan.

An AED from the Wes Leonard Heart Team.
An AED from the Wes Leonard Heart Team.

His mother, Jocelyn Leonard, said the foundation is also working to bring awareness.

Many people are hesitant to use an AED but she says the life-saving devices are simple to operate.

“Anybody can use them. Just open them up, tear open the package and do what the diagram says and it’s really a two-step process. It used to be you had to hit a button but some of those still exist,” Jocelyn Leonard said. “But really it’s a two part: just open it then put the AED, the pads on.”

The foundation is asking for legislators to provide funding for schools to cover AED expenses.

“You’ve got to be able to get to it and get back very quickly,” Jocelyn Leonard said. “So really it’s multiple. Schools don’t need just one, they need multiples.”

Wes Leonard’s former coach, Ryan Klingler, said they also need to be checked to make sure the batteries are properly functioning.

There is still a strong demand from groups requesting the device.

“We still have a waiting list probably over 35, 40 schools, youth organizations, churches, things like that,” Klingler said.

If you would like to donate, you can visit the Wes Leonard Foundation website.

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Dr. Grifka’s name. We regret the error, which has since been corrected.