More Health:

July 26, 2023

Basketball star Bronny James suffered a cardiac arrest at practice; here's what to know about the condition

The 18-year-old USC freshman is in stable condition and out of the hospital. Cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death for young athletes

Health News Cardiac Arrest
Bronny James cardiac arrest EFE/ SOOBUM IM/Sipa USA

Bronny James is in stable condition after suffering a cardiac arrest Monday during basketball practice at USC. Cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in young athletes, researchers say.

LeBron James' oldest son, Bronny James, is in stable condition after suffering a cardiac arrest Monday during basketball practice at the University of Southern California.

The 18-year-old, who is entering his freshman year, was hospitalized but has since been released from the intensive care unit, according to a statement from a James family spokesperson.

“We ask for respect and privacy for the James family and we will update media when there is more information," the spokesperson said. "LeBron and Savannah wish to publicly send their deepest thanks and appreciation to the USC medical and athletic staff for their incredible work and dedication to the safety of their athletes."

What is cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart unexpectedly stops beating, according to the CDC. This causes blood to stop flowing to the rest of the body. People who survive cardiac arrest can develop brain or organ injuries, as well as psychological distress.

Cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack; a heart attack occurs when arteries are blocked and blood stops flowing to the heart, which damages heart muscle tissue. Heart attacks can affect the heart's electrical signals, which increases the risk for cardiac arrest.

Without immediate treatment  which can include CPR or shocks to the heart with an automated external defibrillator (AED)  cardiac arrest can be fatal.

"The single most dangerous thing is that if you have a cardiac arrest, it means that you're dead," said Dr. Michael G. Link, a cardiac electrophysiologist with South Jersey's AtlantiCare Physician Group Cardiology.

Every year, more than 365,000 Americans have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, according to the CDC. Of those cases, 60-80% die before reaching the hospital. Older adults and men have a higher risk of cardiac arrest, but every year about 2,000 seemingly healthy young adults under the age of 25 die of cardiac arrest in the U.S. Cardiac arrest is also the leading cause of death in young athletes.

"It can unfortunately affect people of all ages," Link said. "And statistically, the people who fall victim to sudden arrest never saw it coming. Even if they did have a risk factor, they never saw it coming."

Cardiac arrest in sports

A 2011 study on NCAA student-athlete sudden deaths between 2004 and 2008 found that cardiovascular-related sudden death was the cause of death in 45 cases, or about nine each year.

One of the most well-known cases of cardiac arrest in sports involved Hank Gathers, a Philly-native basketball player for Loyola Marymount University who collapsed and died during a 1990 conference tournament game. Gathers suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), the leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest among youth.

In 2005, Western Kentucky University point guard Danny Rumph, also from Philly, was playing pick-up basketball at a rec center in Germantown when he collapsed and died of a cardiac arrest. Rumph also unknowingly suffered from HCM.

Last July, USC basketball player Vince Iwuchukwu suffered a cardiac arrest during a workout. The freshman forward reportedly felt dizzy before collapsing. USC athletic trainers performed CPR on Iwuchukwu and were able to revive him. He has since recovered and even made his basketball debut months later.

In January, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. In Hamlin's case, the cardiac arrest was caused by commotio cordis, an impact to the chest. Commotio cordis is most often seen in young athletes playing sports with "projectiles" like baseballs or hockey pucks.

Hamlin has since been cleared to return to football. He shared a tweet Tuesday in support of James' recovery.

"Prayers to Bronny & The James family as well," Hamlin wrote. "here for you guys just like you have been for me my entire process."

Some steps have been taken to ensure swift treatment is available for athletes who experience cardiac arrest. In 2016, an NCAA task force released guidance that recommended universities create and practice emergency action plans for cardiac arrest.

In Pennsylvania, a law proposed in January by Sen. Marty Flynn would require Pa. school districts to have AEDs available whenever they host sporting events. 

There are also various organizations working to provide life-saving equipment and screenings throughout the region. The Daniel E. Rumph II Foundation, established in Rumph's honor, provides AEDs as well as CPR and AED training to Pennsylvania communities. In South Jersey, AtlantiCare's Heart Heroes program has placed hundreds of AEDs at rec centers, schools and other places. 

Here are the signs and treatments of cardiac arrest to be aware of in case of a medical emergency: 

Signs and symptoms

Along with conditions like commotio cordis or HCM, causes of cardiac arrest may include cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart), heart disease, artery disease or an arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).

According to the CDC, signs and symptoms of cardiac arrest may include:

• Suddenly collapsing and losing consciousness (passing out)
• Not breathing or gasping for air
• Not responding to shouting or shaking
• Not having a pulse

While cardiac arrest may happen suddenly, researchers have found that there may be warning signs in the weeks leading up to the event, including shortness of breath, chest discomfort and palpitations. 

Treatments and prevention

If someone experiences cardiac arrest, immediate treatment must be enacted to increase blood flow to the person's organs.

"The single most important thing in a cardiac arrest is getting the heart started again, so bystanders (should being performing) CPR immediately, calling 911 and getting emergency services," Link said. "The faster that you can get somebody's heart going again, restore normal rhythm, is what improves survival."

The first line of treatment is usually CPR, which involves another person compressing the patient's chest to increase blood flow. This can temporarily treat the condition until advanced emergency treatment is available. 

When first responders arrive, they will use a defibrillator to send electric shocks to the heart to help it regain function. AEDs are similar to difibrillators but are designed for anyone to use.

Once a patient is hospitalized, they may undergo surgery or receive medication depending on the cause of the cardiac arrest.

In terms of prevention, chest protectors have been introduced in some youth sports.

There also are debates among medical experts over whether athletes should be routinely screened for heart conditions. Standard sports physicals do not include electrocardiograms (EKG), which measure the heart's electrical activity and can detect some heart conditions. But some doctors think they should be more routinely used and could save lives.

It's important for kids to get annual checkups and to have their hearts screened if there are any abnormalities or if there is a strong family history of sudden death, according to Link. 

Follow Franki & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @wordsbyfranki | @thePhillyVoice
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice
Have a news tip? Let us know.

Follow us

Health Videos