Loyola Blakefield lacrosse player Peter Laake and his father weren’t watching TV on Monday night when Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during an NFL game.
But shortly after, their phones started buzzing with news alerts about the cardiac arrest Hamlin suffered after colliding with Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. Laake’s fellow high school lacrosse players began texting him, as memories about the teenager’s life-threatening sports accident in 2021 resurfaced.
“Some of those guys had seen the play and said, ‘Peter, it looks like the same thing that happened to you,’” Laake’s father, also named Peter, said.
The then-freshman defenseman was playing in a home game against McDonogh in April 2021 when he was struck in the chest and suffered commotio cordis, a traumatic blow in a critical point in the heartbeat cycle that disrupts the heart’s rhythm.
The now-junior remembers feeling the ball hit his chest, turning toward the stands as he followed the ball, and then feeling dizzy. “After two seconds of getting really dizzy, it got worse and worse, and through those two seconds, I kind of blacked out. I don’t remember anything after that,” he said.
Laake fell facedown, and when Loyola’s athletic training staff rushed to him, they couldn’t find a pulse.
Jeremy Parr, Loyola’s head athletic trainer, said that when Laake collapsed, the combination of an emergency plan, an accessible automatic emergency defibrillator and prompt medical attention saved his life.
“When there is a success story, it’s directly tied into the timing of the response and having AEDs accessible and available to the victims of that cardiac arrest within three to four minutes,” Parr said. He was among the medical professionals who resuscitated Laake. After Laake went to a hospital for testing, doctors cleared him to play again within a month.
A state law passed in April in honor of late Baltimore football player Elijah Gorham, who died after suffering a traumatic brain injury, requires Maryland middle and high schools to have emergency action plans for athletic venues and defibrillators located a “brief walk” away.
Parr and Laake’s father said schools should have an AED located near where athletes play, not locked away in an office, In addition to the defibrillators spread out among Loyola’s classrooms, the Laakes bought three extra devices, now kept in heated boxes near each of the school’s outdoor fields to be available for kids during recess, practices and games.
“At the end of the day, these devices are not that expensive,” Laake’s father said. “If it were out back at the baseball field, Peter wouldn’t be sitting here today.” Both Parr and Laake’s father said more people, not just medical professionals, should be trained on how to use defibrillators and administer CPR.
At the time of Laake’s injury, USA Lacrosse required chest pads meeting a certain standard for goalies, but the rule didn’t apply to field players until 2022.
Following the accident, Baltimore-area lacrosse players rushed out to buy the more protective chest pads, Parr and Laake’s father said. Now, Laake tells any player he sees without a pad how important they can be.
“Now it’s happened in the NFL, maybe all of a sudden people will take another look and give more consideration to, what I can wear? What access to care is available, should it happen?” Laake’s father said about Hamlin’s injury, which cardiologists have said appears to be commotio cordis.
Laake’s father said watching video of medics rushing to treat Hamlin brought back the emotions he felt on that spring day in 2021.
“We just kind of relived, rehashed what we had gone through, and of course started to pray for Damar and his family, first and foremost his family, and then the organization,” he said.
His son said the video, which he called “a little frightening,” helped him understand what his teammates must have seen and felt when he suddenly fell to the ground.
“I’ve never seen video of people trying to resuscitate me, or hear what was said, but just seeing the fall and seeing the rush of the trainers, it was just kind of eye-opening,” he said.