Ultra-Thin Chest Protector for Kid Athletes Aims for a Home Run; A New Product Will Protect Kids from Potentially Fatal Commotio Cordis, Where a Blow to the Heart between Heartbeats Stops the Heart

By Miller, Stuart | Newsweek, May 13, 2016 | Go to article overview

Ultra-Thin Chest Protector for Kid Athletes Aims for a Home Run; A New Product Will Protect Kids from Potentially Fatal Commotio Cordis, Where a Blow to the Heart between Heartbeats Stops the Heart


Miller, Stuart, Newsweek


Byline: Stuart Miller

In 2010, Thomas Adams, a 16-year-old boy from New Jersey, died on the baseball field. A catcher on an all-star traveling team, he was warming up a pitcher and got hit in the chest with a ball. He stood up and said, "I can't breathe" and then collapsed, dying nearly instantly.

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Strange as it sounds, every year approximately 15 athletes of high school age or younger die from commotio cordis--when a blow to the area over the heart's left ventricle in the 0.0005 of a second between heartbeats stops the heart. In the U.S., commotio cordis is most common in baseball but happens in lacrosse, as well; overseas, soccer and cricket are the most dangerous sports. Only young athletes, whose thoraxes are not yet fully developed, are at risk, and even heavy gear like the catcher's chest protector Adams was wearing when he was hit can't help.

Rob Vito was shocked when he saw the TV news story about Adams's death. Vito is CEO of Unequal Technologies, which uses military-grade composites for protective sports gear, but he had never heard of commotio cordis. He talked to Dr. Mark Link of Tufts University, who has studied the phenomenon for decades and was working on a protocol for testing whether gear could protect against the potentially fatal injury. The two decided to team up.

It took nearly five years before they came up with a composite that could protect against all sorts of different impact speeds and types of projectiles, Vito says, but also be light, thin and flexible enough to be worn not just as chest protectors by catchers but also as a protective undershirt by fielders and athletes in other sports. "It's like our competitors are selling 8-tracks and we have MP4s," he says. "Most chest protectors, if you remove the logos and the high price tags, all you're left with is cheap couch foam."

Last year, Walker Johnson, then 13, became one of the rare survivors of a commotio cordis incident when the young pitcher was hit in the heart by a batted ball. …

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