How athletic training saves lives, from Damar Hamlin to young athletes – The NAU Review

*Editor’s Note: The Views from NAU blog series highlights the thoughts of a variety of people associated with NAU, including faculty members who share opinions or research in their areas of expertise. The views expressed reflect the personal viewpoint of the authors.

By Corey Oshikoya

Dr. Corey Oshikoya is an instructor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Athletic Training. In addition to his experience as an athletic trainer in the NFL, his dissertation research examines the cultural competency of athletic training education and creates a self-assessment tool to help health professionals examine their ability to teach in a culturally competent manner and create culturally inclusive classroom.

I’m used to being on the sidelines. I did that for 16 years as an Athletic Trainer (AT) for the Denver Broncos. Before each game, I identified where the ambulance was, confirmed that all life-saving equipment was working properly, and determined who the emergency contacts were at that particular NFL stadium. I almost never needed these things—almost.

As an athletic trainer, I lived on that line—the line between preparation and need, between readiness and action. So when I watched Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapse on the field earlier this month, I remembered those times when I needed emergency equipment to work when I needed an ambulance.

In my case it was a staff member who collapsed. I was called to come to his aid. I remember running from the gym to the stadium concourse where he was lying lifeless. I remember being surprised at myself. I didn’t think so. I didn’t know what to do. I was just doing. Two additional ATs and I turned on the automated external defibrillator (AED), lifted his shirt, applied the patches, yelled “clear,” and kicked his heart into beating. He came to. It was an unexpected moment, but it was one I had trained for and that training took me.

In the days after Hamlin collapsed, details emerged. He suffered a heart attack on the field, a rare condition in football. Essentially, blunt force trauma directly to his heart at a certain point in the cardiac cycle sent the organ into arrhythmia. His life was saved by a quick-thinking, highly skilled athletic trainer. I wasn’t surprised; I had seen it before. I had been there before.

Corey Oshikoya teaches athletic training students.
Athletic training faculty member Corey Oshikoya teaches techniques to NAU students. Top photo: Denver Broncos coach Oshikoya helps tackle Kevin Vickerson off the field during their game against the New England Patriots on November 24, 2013 at Gillette Stadium. Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post.

Athletic trainers study, prepare, and train just for when the unexpected happens. At NAU, our athletic training program is the largest in the nation. We prepare people to save lives and prevent and recover from injuries at all levels of sport, but more importantly, I would say, are the graduates we send to high schools and those who support youth sports.

Day after day, athletic trainers educate children about wellness, assess their physical injuries, provide therapeutic interventions and save lives. The stages aren’t always as extensive as the AT that saved Damar Hamlin’s life, but they’re no less important. NAU students are used to hearing our faculty emphasize the importance of athletic trainers in high school and youth sports settings. There isn’t always funding or even an understanding of why they are needed, but examples like Damar Hamlin’s shine a bright light on the importance and value of AT.

The past few weeks have made me reflect a lot on my career in the field, and while it may seem like these significant, life-saving moments define my career, they don’t. These are the relationships I’ve built with athletes throughout their athletic journey, in good times and bad. It’s seeing someone get injured and not just recover, but return to their sport and thrive.

This week, Damar Hamlin tweeted his desire to get back on the field with his teammates. I hope it gets there. I know I will be watching, proud of my comrades in athletic training and our students who continue to train and remain ready to help with the next injury or life-changing event.

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