Rare chest injury leaves youth baseball and lacrosse players at risk

As lacrosse and baseball season approaches, coaches need to be aware of a rare lethal injury that can be sustained by children when a ball strikes them in the chest even if they are wearing the correct lacrosse equipment and youth catchers gear.

Last month, Tyler Kopp, a 12-year-old lacrosse player from Rochester, New York, lost consciousness and later died after an errant pass from an opponent struck him in the chest.

Dr. Chad Teeters, chief of cardiology at Rochester's Highland Hospital told local newspaper The Democrat and Chronicle that Kopp likely died from commotio cordis, a condition resulting from a direct blow to the heart which leads to fatal cardiac arrhythmia. Teeters said that a series of factors need to align perfectly in order for this lethal result to occur, making it an extreme rare injury.

"There is a unique phenomenon in kids where the speed of the ball is just right at that age where it can hit them at a vulnerable time in the cardiac cycle and actually induce a cardiac arrest," the Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Susan Joy told Baltimore's ABC affiliate in a story about these injuries among baseball players. "And it may not happen right away.  They may get hit and be OK for a few seconds and then slump."

Had the ball been traveling at a slower speed, not hit at the same location, not been as dense or not hit at that precise moment, Kopp's life could have been spared. The news source reports that 10 lacrosse players died from a blow to the chest between 1980 and 2008, suggesting that most parents and coaches should not be worried about their youth athletes experiencing a similar injury.

Still, coaches should be trained to administer life-saving care, such as CPR, if necessary. They should also insist that players wear proven safety equipment, such as STX lacrosse pads, to prevent serious injuries from occurring.