Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest brought back scary memories for ex-Detroit Lions doctors

Detroit Free Press

Kent Falb was not watching the Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game Monday until someone called and told him to turn on his TV.

Dr. Terry Lock had no idea Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest during the game until he heard the news on the radio Tuesday morning.

For both men, learning of the incident brought back chilling memories of their time with the Detroit Lions.

Falb, the Lions head trainer in 1966-2000, was on the field when Chuck Hughes became the only known NFL player to die in a game in 1971, and both Falb and Lock were on the team’s medical staff when Reggie Brown was temporarily paralyzed and needed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in 1997.

A LOOK BACK:The scariest medical moments in Detroit sports history

“Very scary,” Lock, now an orthopedic surgeon at Henry Ford Hospital and the team orthopedic at Detroit Mercy, told the Free Press on Tuesday. “It was a little different situation because with Reggie Brown, his injury was to his spinal cord and due to the level of the injury it knocked out his diaphragm, so he was unable to breathe. So he had a respiratory arrest that would have momentarily turned into a cardiac arrest as well.

“When we got out on the field, or when I got out on the field he was cyanotic, or his lips were blue. … So we started kind of mouth-to-mouth right then and there just to ventilate him and we were able to kind of keep him ventilated and he had a pulse, so his heart never completely stopped.”

Hamlin, 24, went into cardiac arrest after making a tackle on Bengals receiver Tee Higgins in the first quarter of Monday’s game. He stood up immediately after the play, then collapsed to the ground seconds later where medical personnel spent several minutes administering CPR, according to ESPN.

The Bills said in a statement Hamlin had his heartbeat restored on the field before he was taken by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where he remained in critical condition Tuesday.

More:Remembering the tragic day Detroit Lions’ Chuck Hughes died on the field 50 years ago

Brown was injured in the fourth quarter of the Lions’ 1997 regular season finale against the New York Jets, on the same day Barry Sanders topped 2,000 yards rushing for the season.

He was hurt when a Jets lineman fell backwards into his neck as he made a tackle on running back Adrian Murrell on what appeared to be a routine play.

Lock, who spent about 15 years with the Lions, said he arrived at Brown’s side within a minute of the injury and immediately began administering CPR.

“I pinched his nostrils and gave him the mouth-to-mouth breaths,” Lock said. “And as someone who, we all go through that training of the CPR training and all that, and I had never actually administered CPR to a human being before. And just I remember, my concern at the time was, was I going to be able to expand his lungs? Was I going to be able to really get his lungs oxygen? And the biggest relief was my very first breath into him was that I could expand his chest, and that was probably the biggest relief of the whole thing was knowing that you could actually get an adequate amount of air into his lungs.”

Lock said he gave Brown CPR for what “seemed like an eternity but maybe (lasted) a couple minutes” before emergency medical services responders took over with an oxygen bag to help Brown breath.

In the terror of the moment, Lions players Johnnie Morton and Kevin Glover ran to get a stretcher for their teammate as players held back tears on the sideline.

Play resumed after a delay of more than 20 minutes. Before it did, each team gathered to pray on the field.

On Monday, the NFL postponed the Bills-Bengals game after ESPN initially reported officials were preparing for the game to resume. The NFL said in a statement Tuesday the game would not be made up this week, and no determination has been made about whether it will be played in the future.

“When all that stuff was going on with Reggie Brown, I mean, the players were, they were extremely shook up at the whole thing,” Lock said. “I mean, the scene wasn’t all that dissimilar to the few pictures I saw (from Monday night) of the guys praying on the field.”

Falb said the Hamlin incident “did bring back some memories” that he did not want to discuss. He called a Free Press reporter back about 45 minutes later to say it was inappropriate for him to talk about an incident he did not see firsthand.

“I know full well the emotion of that medical staff and what they’re going through, and I would make one comment and that is that the athlete that is the focus of this attention gets it all, and the people who saved his life get no credit and no attention and they’re just sort of out there,” Falk said. “My concern is their feelings and I would reach out to them today and say, I don’t care what happened but are you OK? Are you OK? And I’m here to support you. That’s really a traumatic experience for an athletic trainer to go through and we all know that it could occur.”

For Lock, who rode in the ambulance with Brown to Pontiac Osteopathic Hospital, the Brown incident — which happened six years after Lions offensive lineman Mike Utley was paralyzed on the field — signaled the start of a new attention to the possibility of catastrophic injury in sports.

“Being a team doctor for a professional team or whatever, we all think of it as kind of a cool thing,” Lock said. “We all love sports, we love being near the athletes, the atmosphere, the whole thing and we like to probably take credit sometimes for things that maybe we don’t deserve credit for, but at the end of the day, the reason really the physicians are there is for just that, a catastrophic thing.”

Lions coach Dan Campbell expressed thoughts and prayers for Hamlin, his family, the Bills and “everybody that was out there in that moment” in his weekly interview Tuesday on WXYT-FM (97.1).

“When you go through all that you go through with guys and injuries happen and you learn to move on, but I can only imagine being out there and that’s one of your brothers and you realize things get real in a hurry and you’re trying to get him back,” Campbell said. “That was shaky, man, so I’m glad that they did the right thing and didn’t finish that out last night. That wouldn’t have been smart, but thoughts and prayers for them.”

Practice squad Lions defensive back Saivion Smith suffered about 20 seconds of temporary paralysis when he hurt his neck in a loss to the New England Patriots in October. Smith was taken off the field by ambulance and later required neck fusion surgery that ended his season.

Campbell said he plans to talk to his team about the Hamlin incident when players return to the building Wednesday to begin preparing for Sunday’s season finale against the Green Bay Packers.

The Lions (8-8) need a win and a Seattle Seahawks loss to the Los Angeles Rams to make the playoffs.

“There’s such a fine line, there’s a balance between understanding there is risk in this game and we all sign up for it, but also understanding that at some point, man, it goes beyond that,” Campbell said on 97.1. “That’s the scary side of it, but you really don’t want to even think about. I sure as heck never did, and I think if you start thinking too much into it, you’ll never want to play this game and that’s where you got to be careful. But I know it’s something we got to talk about, cause it’s out there. This is a real human being and those are his brothers out there and that’s something that just won’t ever leave you. I hate that it was out there as long as it was out there, honestly. And I know everybody just thought it was — is it a normal injury or something different, but it’s tough. It’s tough. It’s tough to see. It’s tough for our players to see.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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