It was an image the football world had hoped for and prayed to never see again. As an unconscious Christian Eriksen received CPR on the grass at Parken Stadium, with his teammates trying to form a protective ring to keep his body still out of sight, it was hard not to think about Fabrice’s collapse. Muamba nine years ago.
The Bolton Wanderers player suffered cardiac arrest moments before half-time during an FA Cup game against Tottenham. Just 23 at the time, Muamba was technically dead for 78 minutes that day in March, his heart no longer beating.
After 15 defibrillation shocks and extensive CPR – otherwise known as cardiopulmonary resuscitation, the application of downward thrusts to the chest to maintain the heart’s artificial flow of blood and oxygen – Muamba was brought back from the edge of the abyss.
Like Eriksen, he had fallen on the ground with no real indication of the internal trauma that had been inflicted. It was a moment that sent shockwaves through the sport, a heartbreaking reminder of the fragility of life – even at this elite level of the game, where footballers are rarely seen as susceptible to such medical events.
But cardiac arrest can affect the healthiest heart and is often triggered by a genetic defect, as was the case with Muamba.
Throughout the long history of top football, more than 80 players – all young and apparently fit and healthy – have died suddenly during a game. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy was the cause in many of these cases. It is a genetic disease that is carried by one in 500 people and is linked to sudden cardiac arrest in young athletes.
Often inherited, the disease is the result of a genetic mutation that causes the muscle wall of the heart to thicken much more than it should. Heavy training and exercise can actually make the problem worse, causing the muscle wall to thicken to the point that blood flow to and out of the heart is impeded. If, in sudden moments of tension, cardiac arrest is triggered, the outcome can be fatal.
Marc-Vivien Foé, the Cameroonian international and Manchester City midfielder, suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy after collapsing on the pitch during a Conference Cup match against Colombia in 2003. His death provoked a shock wave in the world of football.
At this point, what specifically caused Eriksen’s sudden collapse remains unclear. In a statement on Saturday evening, UEFA said the player had been “stabilized”, while the Danish Football Association (DFA) later said the player was “awake and undergoing further examinations” at Rigshospitalet – one of the best heart units in Denmark.
Peter Moeller, director of the DFA, said Eriksen, just 29, received a “heart massage” while being treated in the field.
He was pictured with his eyes open and a hand on his head as he was finally carried on a stretcher. The immediate treatment he received from doctors at Parken Stadium in Copenhagen probably saved his life.
It’s the same story with the swift response that followed Muamba’s collapse at White Hart Lane. Five fully medically trained assistants were at the edge of the field that day, along with a St. John Ambulance unit.
However, the availability of such services has not always been present in the game. After breaking his skull playing against Reading in 2006, Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech was forced out of the pitch on his own and waited. an ambulance.
An official complaint from Chelsea led to a review of the FA and the Premier League, which introduced new measures from 2007, including the requirement for every match to have an ambulance waiting for players and officials .
Other regulations required clubs to provide two paramedical stretcher bearers, with a club doctor and physiotherapists on the team benches, as well as a qualified “crowd doctor” on availability.
Nonetheless, the nature of Eriksen’s gruesome collapse – and its apparent parallels to Muamba’s own 2012 experience – will almost certainly refocus attention on what football authorities are doing to detect these dangerous genetic abnormalities and heart disease. rare that unknowingly threaten the life of a small minority. of athletes.
As UEFA and Fifa already require every player to be scanned before a major tournament, it is likely that Eriksen will have been screened in the weeks leading up to Saturday’s game.
In Italy, footballers are already undergoing a screening program and simple heart tests to help detect hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
The English FA is examining its young professional footballers using an echocardiogram, which provides a detailed look at the structure and function of the heart using ultrasound. It allows precise measurement of the size of the heart cavity, evaluation of heart valves and adjacent blood vessels.
Further scrutiny should also be placed on the intensive playing schedule that footballers have faced in recent months. Just hours before Eriksen’s collapse, footballers union Fifpro warned that the well-being of players was not taken into account when drawing up competition schedules.
“Over the past four years (…) players around the world have told us that the competition schedule does not adequately meet, or even take into account their needs. The conditions in and around the game leave you mentally and physically exhausted “, declared the general secretary of Fifpro. Jonas Baerr-Hoffman said in an open letter. He said it was time for change and urged players to make their voices heard collectively through their unions.
For now, football and the sporting world at large must wait and watch for new information on Eriksen’s condition and pray for a full recovery.