Chest Blows Fatal for Young Athletes

commotio cordis
Commotio cordis can happen when a baseball, travelling as slow as 35 to 45 miles an hour, strikes at just the wrong place, over the left ventricle. And at just the wrong time in the heartbeat cycle - creating an abnormal heartbeat which causes sudden cardiac arrest.
CBS

Teenagers are supposed to be each other's teammates - not pallbearers, but on a bitter cold day at a suburban New York church, Tommy Adams' friends and family said goodbye, reports CBS News national correspondent Jim Axelrod.

"I can't believe my little man is in a coffin and his dream was squashed," said Tommy's father Tom Adams.

Tommy was a 16-year-old all-star catcher, working out last Friday inside a gym when he got hit in the chest with a pitched ball.

"And when I got to the hospital, it was, 'Oh my God,' because they were trying to pump him back together," said Tommy's father. "and then people were telling me, 'he had his full gear on…the ball hit him and then he said, 'I can't breathe,' and that was it.'"

All signs point to commotio cordis: a blow to the chest.

It can happen when a baseball, travelling as slow as 35 to 45 miles an hour, strikes at just the wrong place, over the left ventricle. And at just the wrong time in the heartbeat cycle - creating an abnormal heartbeat which causes sudden cardiac arrest.

It happens in a variety of sports, including tae kwon do. One case of horribly bad timing can be fatal.

"One death is one too many," said said Dr. Francis O'Connor, president of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine.

Today at a youth sports safety summit in Washington, doctors stressed that every school should have athletic trainers at practices, not just games and defibrillators called AEDs at every training site. There was none at the gym where Tommy died.

"In the absence of an AED your chances are less than 10 percent of walking away from sudden cardiac arrest," said Dr. O'Connor.

Commotio cardis has caused 188 athletes to die in the last 15 years - 96 percent were male -- their average age: just under 15.

Summit leaders say young female athletes have their own threats. A report released today says they're more likely to suffer sports-related concussions than boys. They have different symptoms, which may go unrecognized.

Summit leaders today called for a uniform medical action plan wherever young athletes practice or play. The idea is to keep parents in the future from suffering what Tommy's father and teammates are enduring now.

  • Jim Axelrod
    Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the chief investigative correspondent and senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.