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Swift action was crucial to Christian Eriksen’s survival when the midfielder collapsed during the first half of Denmark’s opening game in the Euro 2020 championship against Finland.
Denmark’s team doctor, Morten Boesen, confirmed that the 29-year-old had gone into cardiac arrest on the pitch and was brought back through a combination of CPR – the manual cardiopulmonary resuscitation that involves repeated pushing down on the chest – and an electric shock from a defibrillator.
Unlike a heart attack, where the heart tends to keep beating, cardiac arrest is a more sudden and dramatic event. Because the heart no longer pumps blood around the body, the critical oxygen supply to the brain and other organs is cut off, presenting an immediate threat to life.
Boesen said the quick reaction of the medical team in treating Eriksen was decisive for his survival and the evidence bears this out. The difference between life and death, or severe brain damage caused by oxygen starvation, is a matter of minutes. In the UK, only 10% of people who suffer cardiac arrest outside of hospitals survive the ordeal. The rate is so low, in part, because people do not get CPR or defibrillation fast enough.
In cardiac arrest, the heart can develop such an unnatural rhythm that it quivers more than beats. This chaotic electrical activity can be reset with a defibrillator by sending an electric shock across the muscle. In Eriksen’s case, one shock from the defibrillator was sufficient to regain his heartbeat. By delivering CPR at the same time, the team ensured a flow of blood around his body.
In young, elite athletes, cardiac arrest is often due to an electrical or structural abnormality they have carried since birth but has not been picked up before.
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, a consultant cardiologist and associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Our thoughts are with Christian Eriksen, his family and the whole football community following his sudden collapse. This shocking event is a stark reminder that a cardiac arrest can strike anyone, anywhere and anytime, without warning.
“If someone suffers a cardiac arrest, it’s vital they receive immediate CPR and defibrillation to give them the best chance of survival. Thankfully, it seems that this was the response that Christian received.
“Every second counts when someone suffers a cardiac arrest – the more of us that know how to perform CPR, the more lives that can be saved.”