HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – Sports fans in Hampton Roads and across the country, if they didn’t know it already, learned the value of athletic trainers in the wake of a pair of recent major incidents.

One involved the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin, the other days afterward involving Old Dominion basketball standout Imo Essien – both collapsing during games.

“We’re always thinking about those circumstances where, what if the worst case happens,” said Julie “We’re always thinking about those circumstances where, what if the worst case happens,” said Julie Cavallario, who heads up Old Dominion’s graduate program for athletic training,” so we can be ready for it.”

Reflecting on it, Jones described what happened to Essien as “scary as hell.”

Essien himself felt scared and described the difficulty he had breathing “like I was breathing through a straw.”

Scott Johnson, ODU associate athletic director for athletic training and sports medicine, noted the skill in which athletic trainers took care of Hamlin, who was administered CPR and a defibrillator on the field before being taken to a Cincinnati hospital.

“The athletic training staff and the medical staff were right there and they were able to start right away,” said Johnson, who has been at ODU for 35 years and has nearly four decades of experience. “That is just perfection.”

He said the timeliness of the treatment led to Hamlin staying alive.

“Because they started so early and so efficiently, they might have saved that young man’s life,” Johnson said.

It was less than a week later when ODU’s own training staff were ready when the 19-year-old Essien fell to the court during a game at Georgia Southern. He has yet to return to the court.

But most incidents similar to what happened to Hamlin or to Essien happen out of the camera’s glare, Cavallario said.

Johnson has a slogan he abides by – prepare for the worst and hope for the best.

Old Dominion’s preparation for athletic emergencies consist of the following:

  • Having an emergency action plan
  • Know your athlete/sport and the injuries common for that sport
  • Know your venue

Athletic trainers at each game need to know where the automated external defibrillator, where there is water access, the location of an ambulance.

And, during the physical exam process, Johnson said they go through vigorous testing, which includes cardiac baseline testing.

At ODU, each venue has an emergency action plan that they go through at every practice and game to ensure everyone is on the same page, Johnson said, “so if something were to happen, there are no hiccups.”

Cavallario said students get advanced training on myriad emergency management protocols for things like concussions and other head injuries, along with sudden cardiac arrest.

“I’m happy to see that the public is starting to see a little more of what we as athletic trainers do,” Cavallario said. “I’m excited for my students to start to see their profession being more recognized and being seen as the health care providers that they are.”