Photo from miamibeachyouthbaseball.com
By Stephen Infantolino
Across the country many kids partake in one of America’s greatest pastimes, baseball. It was a sport that was invented and perfected right here in the United States, but is the sport plagued with a growing problem?
In May 2002, a seven-year-old by the name of Nader Parman II, passed away after being struck in the chest by a baseball in his own front yard in Marietta, GA. The condition that Nader had is known as commotio cordis.
Commotio cordis in basic terms is often a lethal disruption of one’s heartbeat. Commotio cordis can occur when a ball, either batted or thrown, hits the chest area right over the heart during a precise moment in the heartbeat cycle, causing cardiac arrest. Commotio cordis has a fatality rate of almost 90 percent.
According to Dr. Suchitha Bodapati, a pediatrician who works at Babylon Village Predicators, a hard blow to this area needs to be treated quickly and effectively. “A hard blow to the chest can cause contusions, but specifically in adolescents, blunt injury to the chest can cause sudden death, known as commotio cordis, which can lead to ventricular fibrillation, which can cause death if not treated within three minutes.”
This fear of commotio cordis, especially amongst young adolescents playing in little leagues, has caused many parents to invest heavily in chest protection, according to the Chicago Tribune. But is something as simple as chest protection going to help?
According to a 2013 study that reviewed approximately 213 U.S. cases of commotio cordis, 37 percent of all the cases that dealt directly with competitive sports, such as little leagues and professional organizations, occurred while the victim was wearing chest protection, and that the chest protection didn’t help soften the impact.
Dr. Bodapati stated that the current chest protection that is on the market isn’t effective for preventing commotio cordis, and that those chest protectors can give parents a false sense of security. “The chest protectors on the market are not effective, because when playing they can move, and they are not enough. It’s not a guarantee that they will protect against going into commotio cordis. Commotio cordis is all about the timing of impact.”
For Carmine Arganu, a former coach in the Middle Country Baseball Youth League from 1995-98, not only is the chest protection ineffective, but it’s also going overboard, especially for something that he considers to be a rare occurrence. “As a former player and a former coach I think it would be a little overboard for anyone other than the catcher to wear chest protection.”
This is a claim that Dr. Bodapati backs up, even though she feels that chest protection won’t even help in the case of catchers. “Only those at high risk need to wear, but even these are not guaranteed to prevent commotio cordis.”
According to momsteam.com, a website dedicated to giving advice to parents who have children that play sports such as baseball, there are better ways to help avoid commotio cordis than purchasing cheap ineffective chest protection, and the simplest way is training young players to avoid situations where their chest area is vulnerable.
For those batting, this includes techniques like turning away from inside pitches. As for the pitcher, it’s all about reaction time, as well as technique. They stress that the pitcher should know the proper fielding position after releasing the ball, as well as having the capacity to recognize that a batted ball is coming their way.
They estimated that it takes approximately 400 milliseconds for a pitcher to get into the proper protective movement once the pitching motion has been completed. For some young players this all can happen too fast, and they can’t properly protect themselves.
Carmine Arganu stated that in situations like these, where a player can’t protect themselves in time, and they actually do get hit and go into a condition like commotio cordis, it is important that trained medical personnel are always there to help. “All sporting events should have trained medical personnel at the field on the sidelines.”
Having these trained medical hands on the fields at all times is crucial to helping those who are suffering from commotio cordis, according to Dr. Bodapati. “The window for survival is so narrow, treatment has to be started immediately. If treatment is started within 1 minute, chance of survival is high. As time ticks down, it gets smaller. After 3 minutes, chance of survival is almost nil.”
For former little league players like Brandon Priceman, who played in the Dunnellon Little League in Florida from 1998-99, technique and trained medical hands aren’t enough. He stated that there needs to be more development in the field of chest protection and that every little league player should be using it. “I would like to at least hear of some trials and errors, and they come out with a product that actually works.” Luckily for many parents and players, new types of protectors are coming out.
As of 2016, many manufacturers have taken up the challenge of trying to develop a chest protector that is comfortable for players, and also helps prevent the risk of commotio cordis. One of these companies, called UNEQUAL, has developed a chest protector that has been proven to reduce the odds. However, this protector costs $159, which is well out of the price range for many little leaguers. Other companies have made chest protectors of similar quality, but they are all just too expensive.
Until the price of these newly designed protectors can be reduced, many little leagues are looking for alternatives to help reduce the risk. Some have turned to what are known as “Safety Balls.” These balls are made up of less dense material, and deal a lesser blow if and when they were to hit a player.
When it comes down to it, the most important thing about playing baseball, as well as any other sport, is having fun and being safe while doing so, regardless of what has to be done to ensure said safety. That’s something that Priceman, as well as many parents of little leaguers, would like to see. “Especially when it comes to small kids, little leagues, anything to protect the kids and make them feel relatively safe for the sport that they want to play.”