Prompt Action and Preparedness Saves Lives
Monday, June 21, 2021

by Trevor Wilkes, MD

The athletes we watch on television, and for that matter our own children for whom we cheer from the sidelines, can often seem invincible. Recently, the world witnessed a grim reminder that this is not the case - a reminder that we must be prepared. 

The European Soccer Championships are underway across the Atlantic. Fandom and nationalist fervor fuel soaring levels of excitement and engagement in this event. Amidst this joy, Christian Eriksen suddenly collapsed, unprovoked and lay motionless in the grass. Athletic training staff rushed to perform CPR. Players openly wept. Fans and viewers held their collective breath. What had happened?

For those not familiar, Mr. Eriksen is a star attacking midfield player for the Danish National Soccer Team and the club Inter Milan, this year's champions of Italy. At age 29, he is in elite, top 1%, physical condition. Professional soccer players typically run greater than 7 miles a game, much of it sprinting, and follow a grueling conditioning program.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in young athletes. It remains a rare occurrence and the exact incidence is unknown, perhaps 1 in 50,000. However, speak with any experienced athletic trainer or coach, and they have witnessed at least one close call. Typically, an underlying heart abnormality such as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, Coronary Artery abnormalities or Long QT Syndrome are at the root cause. A description of these complex conditions is beyond the scope of this post; however, in function, the heart suddenly ceases to maintain the ability to pump sufficient blood, and thus oxygen, to the brain.    

These conditions are often unknown. At times, symptoms such as unexplained fainting can serve as a clue to diagnosis. A direct family history of sudden cardiac death at an age less than 50 can also serve as a warning sign to discuss with a physician. Screening for these conditions is controversial due to high cost and frequent false positive tests.

What is not debatable, is that prompt action and preparedness saves lives. A solid understanding, practice, and certification of CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) amongst coaches, teachers, athletic trainers and the general population have saved countless lives. Layer on top of this the growing presence of automated external defibrillators (AED) which provide electric stimulation to the heart muscle and survival rates are more promising than ever.

Watch this video from U.S. Soccer: Recognize to Recover - CPR and AED Training

In the case of Christian Eriksen, medical staff were on the field attending to the player in less than 2 minutes. What has been reported is that he had a faint pulse initially which subsequently failed. CPR was immediately undertaken and one round of “shock” with the AED was utilized. The player was seen to have eyes open and fingers moving while being stretchered off the field. Although Eriksen was discharged from a Copenhagen hospital on Friday, June 18, OrthoCincy and OrthoCincy Wellington continue to extend our thoughts to him and his family.

This should serve as a reminder to our Tri-State sports family of athletes, parents, coaches, administrators and ATCs of the fragility of life and our collective responsibility to care for each other.

Learn more about Dr. Wilkes and all the OrthoCincy and OrthoCincy Wellington doctors.