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On game days, NFL teams have dozens of medical staff on site

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

Within seconds of his collapse during Monday night's NFL game, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin was being treated by medical personnel on the field. On game days, each NFL team has several medical staff on site, including dentists, paramedics and neurotrauma specialists. They're trained to respond to any injury that can happen in a game. Dr. Robert Linton spent nearly 10 years as a field physician for the Baltimore Ravens. He's now the chief medical officer of Howard University Hospital, and he joins me now. Dr. Linton, good morning.

ROBERT LINTON: Good morning.

SCHMITZ: So as a former NFL physician, was there anything that stood out to you when you saw Damar Hamlin collapse?

LINTON: Yes, absolutely. It was a very seemingly routine play. And if he had gotten up from that play and went back to the huddle, I don't think there would have been much thought about it. But what stood out to me was, once he collapsed, the speed at which the medical team were able to get to him. And the early recognition of the situation was - from what I know, appeared to be very good response time.

SCHMITZ: And let us know, how crucial are those moments when a player collapses like that, right after that happens, for medical staff?

LINTON: Yeah, it's critical. And I would say that for better outcomes, timely recognition of a cardiac arrest is key so that you can provide early CPR and ultimately defibrillation to really give the player the best chance of survival in these types of events.

SCHMITZ: And so what are the priorities of the medical team on site once they reach the player in that situation?

LINTON: So absolutely priorities are going to be recognition of is the patient - if they have a pulse. Are they moving? Sometimes there can be seizure activity, but the priorities are definitely going to be the airway, making sure that the patient is breathing. And you worry about their - did they also sustain a cervical spine injury at the same time? So you really...

SCHMITZ: Right.

LINTON: ...Want to be mindful of the actual hit and the nature of it.

SCHMITZ: And what kind of preparation or plans are in place for these types of incidents from the medical staff perspective?

LINTON: Yeah, great question. The preparation includes drills in the off-season. To really be able to effectively manage a rare but high-stakes, high-consequence event like this, player drills and simulation become...

SCHMITZ: So that's interesting. You all do - like, you'll do regular drills. I mean, how often do you do that?

LINTON: Yeah, at least two to three times in the off-season. And that would be very important because when you don't have an event like this occur very often, it's very challenging if you don't approach it that way. And so with the stakes being as high as they are, drills become very important because you can really dive into the nuances at that particular stadium and go through the different scenarios which you may, you know, want to anticipate prior to any game or any situation like this.

SCHMITZ: That's Dr. Robert Linton. He spent nearly 10 years as a field physician for the Baltimore Ravens. He's now chief medical officer of Howard University Hospital. Thanks so much, Dr. Linton.

LINTON: You are welcome. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.