With the recent media attention surrounding Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, it brought to light the confusion and misinformation surrounding sudden cardiac arrest and AEDs.

Thankfully Damar got the timely care that he needed for a positive outcome. This terrifying event is bringing national attention to Sudden Cardiac Arrest and the realization that this could happen to anyone, anywhere. So much of the early attention focused on CPR, which is important, but can only go so far. Let’s start with the basics:


  • An AED restarted Damar’s heart.


  • CPR mimicked the heart pumping to keep blood and oxygen flowing through his body to increase his chance of survival and brain function.


“Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) after cardiac arrest can keep blood flowing to the heart and brain for a time. But often only defibrillation can restore the heart’s rhythm. Together these treatments can improve the chances of survival.” – Mayo Clinic


Why the AED worked

Damar Hamlin suffered from Sudden Cardiac Arrest, not to be confused with a heart attack. Simply put, Sudden Cardiac Arrest is an “electrical problem.” It happens when the heart suddenly stops beating. The only way to restart the heart into a normal rhythm is a shock from an AED.

A heart attack is a “plumbing problem,” it happens when the arteries are blocked and blood flow to the heart is severely restricted. An AED won’t shock in the event of a heart attack.


You can be a first responder

So many stories we’ve read have said something along the lines of “perform CPR until a trained professional arrives to operate the AED.” This is frustrating to read and incorrect. When the AED arrives, use it as soon as possible. Using the AED sooner rather than later will likely be the difference between life and death. (See our previous post, Time = the problem and the solution)

In your American Red Cross CPR/AED training you will be told (if you haven’t taken it already), to use the AED as soon as one becomes available.

Every AED has fool-proof instructions. Just turn on the power button and follow the prompts.

Don’t worry about harming the victim by using an AED. The AED will scan the heart rhythm and if sudden cardiac arrest is not detected, it will not advise a shock. If a shock (or multiple) is advised, the AED will perform the shock and tell you to perform CPR between shocks. It’s that easy.


What can you do right now?

  • Get AED/CPR trained. Even though the AED is fool-proof, you need to know how to quickly and effectively perform CPR. Getting trained will empower you to know how to stay calm and go through life-saving steps in an emergency situation. 
  • Learn where the AEDs are located where you work, shop and hang out.
  • Become an advocate for AEDs if there aren’t any where you work, shop or hang out.
  • Educate yourself on Sudden Cardiac Arrest. It is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. Check out our page, Eva, for non-profit and community resources.