Young Ballplayer’s Heart Stops After Being Hit By Pitch

KGTV(ROHNERT PARK, Calif.) -- A couple who knew CPR was the only thing standing between a young ballplayer and death, after a seemingly simple play stopped his heart.

An 8-year-old boy in Rohnert Park, Calif., nearly died of cardiac arrest after being struck by a baseball pitch Sunday. A husband and wife watching the youth league game were credited with saving his life.

The boy, who was not identified, had stopped breathing and had no pulse, but emergency crews shocked his heart with a defibrillator and got it beating again. He was taken by helicopter to Oakland Children's Hospital and was in stable condition Sunday night.

"I was right behind the plate and this kid got hit in the heart with the ball," 14-year-old umpire Trenton Starrett told ABC affiliate KGO. "He went to first, like he tripped once, and he got back up, and then fell again, and then he didn't get back up."

Medical experts say the boy would likely have died if the couple, who were off-duty paramedics, had not responded so quickly.

"He was down for 30 seconds before someone got onto him and did CPR for five minutes, and then the department of public safety arrived with a defibrillator," said Aaron D. Johnson, director of operations for the Cal Ripken Baseball League.

The boy experienced ventricular fibrillation, caused by commotio cordis, which translates from Latin to mean agitation of the heart, according to Dr. Nicholas Kman, associate professor of emergency medicine at The Ohio State University Medical Center.

The condition is rare, but often causes sudden death when it strikes. Just last week, 16-year-old Taylor Dorman of San Diego took a direct hit in the heart from a softball.  He died just twenty minutes later, according to ABC 15.

Sudden death from commotio cordis occurs in about 200 children a year in the United States, often after a blow to the midsection, according to a 2010 article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The term commotio cordis was first used in the 19th century, but has been described by ancient Chinese martial arts specialists as "touch of death."

"It's thought that if the ball or projectile hits his chest wall at the right spot at the right timing of the heart, it causes arrhythmia," said Kman. "This happens in a normal heart, not a structurally impaired heart."

Commotio cordis "has a high mortality rate," according Dr. Benjamin Abella, director of clinical research in the Center for Resuscitation Science at the University of Pennsylvania.  But, he said, the chances of dying are greater without defibrillation. If blood flow is not restored quickly, death or brain damage can result.

"You need at least an electrical shock, but if that is not available, provide CPR first, then call 911," according to Abella. "It will not reverse it, but will keep the blood moving enough until you get a defibrillator. It buys you time."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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