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Billings Bills Mafia rallies support for Damar Hamlin; Billings doctor explains heart condition

Posted at 6:51 PM, Jan 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-05 11:17:28-05

BILLINGS — The Buffalo Bills are well represented at The Den in Billings, where you can find an official chapter of the Buffalo Bills Backers posted up on game day.

"Our group that meets here, there's about 30 or 40 of us, we're actually pretty tight," says Billings Buffalo Bills Backers co-founder Ross Polen.

"There's something about the Bills Mafia, it's just part of us."

A lifelong Bills fan, Polen watched on in shock and horror as 24-year-old Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during gameplay Monday in a high-stakes game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"I kept waiting for him to give the thumbs up or something, then when we heard that they gave him CPR, the mood just sunk," Polen said. "The option to continuing to play, I don't care, I don't care right now, we want that kid to be safe."

In the first quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals, Hamlin tackled wide receiver Tee Higgins, who caught Hamlin in the chest with his shoulder. After the play, Hamlin stoop up, took two steps, and collapsed into cardiac arrest. Within moments, he received CPR and resuscitation on the field from a defibrillator, which restarted his heart.

Cardiologists like Dr. Joseph Muhlestein, who specializes in cardiac electrophysiology at Billings Clinic, immediately suspected a rare condition—commotio cordis.

"It refers to when the chest is hit with enough force to cause an electrical activation, specifically at a time in the cardiac cycle that can lead to an abnormal rhythm," Muhlestein said.

What's important about commotio cordis: it's not a heart attack.

While it's not confirmed this is what happened to Hamlin, seeing similar cases in athletes in baseball, hockey and other contact sports, backed up doctors' suspicions.

"Cases in sports like baseball, softball, hockey, where there are hard, dense objects being sent around at high speeds are actually more common, but a football helmet can do it too," Muhlestein said.

Looking at how this incident could change sports in the future, Muhlestein said he hopes it promotes more CPR certifications and training for athletes and spectators at all levels.