AUSTIN (KXAN) — With every hit on the football field, you expect—and hope—athletes get back up. Allen Hardin and his medical team are on the sidelines for every Longhorn game to make sure that happens.
So, when Hardin watched Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin collapse during Monday night’s game, it, of course, brought concern and fear.
“It’s surreal to watch, knowing that that’s an environment that my staff and I are in times that we have prepared to manage,” Hardin said.
He thanks God that in his roughly 26 years at UT, and 10 as chief medical officer of Texas athletics, he hasn’t had to respond to a sudden cardiac arrest on the football field—although he said they are prepared to do so.
“An episode like this, I think reinforces the significance of having medical professionals involved in all these activities. And we take that for granted. But it certainly does bring that top of mind,” he said.
Hardin said they’ve got about 10 medical personnel on the field at every home game—a big increase over the years.
“The number of medical professionals on the field not just in football… in other sports and other venues has increased dramatically, probably doubled or tripled in the time that I’ve been at UT,” he said.
He said they’ve each got their own role on the sidelines to make sure everyone gets up after a play.
“We do have an independent medical observer that’s in the press box that can call down if he or she were to see something that they thought maybe we missed,” Hardin said.
Hardin said they also practice their emergency action plan for practices and games at least once a year for each venue.
He said they use some technology to monitor athletic performance.
“Much of that we can use to monitor how kids, how they respond to their training, how much recovery they’ve had,” he explained.
But they don’t have any special devices to monitor athletes’ health, so far.
“There are some in-helmet sensors,” Hardin said. “We’ve found those not to be as reliable as we would anticipate or hope for, mainly because a hit that can impact me in a certain way may not impact you. So, it’s hard to use those sensors as a device to monitor whether or not an individual has a concussion, they may or may not.”
While Hardin and his team keep track of the uniforms on the field, there’s a separate medical team keeping an eye on fans.
That’s where Dr. Ryan McCorkle and his medical team come in.
“They’re standing there kind of scanning the crowd somewhat. But also, anybody in the crowd who’s having, ‘Hey, my friend has passed out, my friend is having chest pain, a friend shorter breath,’ that kind of thing,” said McCorkle, an emergency medicine physician at St. David’s Medical Center.
He also does the same at Austin FC games.
“When you have 100,000 people that are UT game or you know, the 15,000 at Austin FC Game, just the law of large numbers, you’re going to have people who end up having an emergency heart attack, strokes, those kinds of things,” he said.
McCorkle, who did his medical residency with the Buffalo Bills, said paramedics are stationed throughout the station in almost every section.
Hardin said athletes have their own paramedic team on standby.
“Get them either down to one of the aid rooms so that one of the physicians that are working the games can help them, or transport them directly to the hospital in the ambulance if there’s something more serious going on,” McCorkle explained.
He said in the case of cardiac arrest, every minute counts.
“When the brain is not getting blood flow, it’s also not getting oxygen that is carried in that blood. And so, after about 10 or 15 minutes, you start to get permanent, anoxic brain damage,” McCorkle said.
That’s why he encourages everyone to learn CPR, so they can help keep blood pumping until an automated external defibrillator is put on to jump-start the heart.
“This is something that is survivable if it’s done quickly,” he said. “It’s a public service, people should all know how to do effective CPR.”
Extra monitors to make sure it’s all gas, no brakes for the Longhorns.