Schools and sports organizations in the Montclair area say they are ready if a severe injury happens on the court or field of play – like what happened to Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin. 

Hamlin, 24, went into cardiac arrest after collapsing during a Jan. 2 game with the Cincinnati Bengals. He was discharged from Buffalo General Medical Center on Wednesday, Jan. 11, to do rehab at home after spending a week at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

In the game, Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins collided with Hamlin as Hamlin attempted to tackle him. 

Local schools, along with the Montclair Recreation Department and youth football teams, have been prepared in case of sudden cardiac arrest for several years.

All New Jersey K-12 schools have been required since Sept. 1, 2014, to have an automated external defibrillator (AED) available for this type of emergency. This came about because of Janet’s Law, which was enacted after the death of 11-year-old Janet Zilinski, a New Jersey cheerleader who died after cardiac arrest. 

Janet’s Fund was established in 2006 to improve survival rates by making AEDs readily available at all schools, playing fields and youth sports events throughout New Jersey.

Montclair High School interim Athletic Director Ron Anello, who was a head football coach at Clifton High School, said, “I couldn’t sleep thinking about Damar Hamlin after he was carried off.

“Unfortunately, there’s always some risk factor when playing sports, but we’ve planned for and are prepared to handle any serious situation.” 

Montclair Kimberley head football coach Anthony Rea said, “Football is a wonderful game, but there are risks that come with it, and all you can hope for as a coach is that you are able to have your players participate in games safely and without harm. 

“We are so thankful for the medical personnel in our program who assist us when there are injuries or emergency situations, and it is amazing what the medical personnel who were at the game were able to do with their quick response.”

Automated external defibrillator (AED), left.  (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)
Automated external defibrillator (AED), left. (EDWARD KENSIK/STAFF)

At Montclair High School, along with AEDs at home games, road teams bring an AED with them. Each coach must be certified in CPR, AED use and first aid, and the coaches need to recertify every two years. The Montclair athletic director’s office holds three certification training sessions each year.

Like Montclair High School, Montclair Kimberley has an AED at all facilities and brings an AED on the road, MKA Athletic Director Todd Smith said.

Smith added that both of MKA’s athletic trainers, Elizabeth Cooney and Steven Brown, are certified in CPR and AED and renew their skills annually, unlike the state-required biannual mandate.

Montclair area youth football teams also say they are prepared in case of an emergency like Hamlin’s.

Garland Thornton, head of the Montclair Bulldogs football program, said the program has access to a defibrillator during practices and games throughout the season. He added that the program has an action plan on what to do in case of an emergency, and that coaches are certified and trained for several different emergencies.

“Our program is mandated that all our coaches for both cheerleading and football are certified and trained for concussions, heat exhaustion, dehydration before being permitted to coach,” Thornton said.

According to the American Heart Association, there are more than 356,000 cardiac arrest cases that happen annually in the U.S. outside of hospitals.

The American Heart Association added that additional tests on Hamlin might detect or rule out hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) or a thickened heart muscle, which is a more common cause of sudden cardiac death in young people, and athletes specifically.

After collapsing, Hamlin immediately received CPR. Most believe that the reason for optimism for his full recovery is the CPR and the use of an AED immediately on the field in Cincinnati.




Edward Kensick writes sports, news and features for Montclair Local.