The crack of a baseball hitting a bat is, for some, the sound of summertime.
Baseball is a source of endless hours of fun for kids across the country. But there can be pain as well. The hard ball, moving fast, can hurt if it hits you. It’s something 10-year-old Miles Hignite knows well.
That’s why Miles wears a unique shirt as an added layer of protection. It’s called a Heart Guard and features special padding that covers the chest, side and stomach.
"I just feel like it protects me," said Miles. “Like, if something ever comes and hits me really hard in the chest, it will protect me even more.”
Jennifer Hignite, Miles’ mom, bought it for him two years ago.
“I am often concerned about the ball, the line drives coming straight toward him,” Jennifer admitted. “I read a story actually that kids could get injured by balls, fly balls actually hitting them in the chest and causing heart arrhythmia.”
But there’s one baseball injury that scares some parents more than others. It’s called commotio cordis. It can happen when a ball hits a player in the chest between heartbeats, causing sudden cardiac arrest.
“It’s right at the moment of impact, the heart stops working,” said Dr. James Roberson. “If it hits at the exact right spot—just pure bad luck—it starts the heart into ventricular fibrillation, which is death.”
It’s estimated that between 10 and 20 young athletes die from commotio cordis every year. Those under the age of 15 are at the highest risk. Doctors say, only CPR or a defibrillator can revive them.
Several companies have come out with padded shirts worn under the uniform, as an attempt to protect against sudden cardiac arrest.
“The theory is that they would help a lot,” said Dr. Roberson. “But the problem is, they never really did.”
Researchers tested them on young pigs, because they have hearts similar to humans. Throwing baseballs at 40 miles per hour revealed a trend. Not one of the Heart Guards worked. In fact, researchers found that roughly one-third of those who experienced commotio cordis were already wearing a chest protector when they died.
NOCSAE, the organization that tests athletic equipment, is currently working with manufacturers to create a material kids can wear that will be effective, should they be hit in the chest with a hard ball.
“It’s physics,” said Dr. Roberson. “And if they can come up with some good chest protectors that really do distribute force away from the front of the heart, that should work.”
Until then, Miles will continue to wear his extra padding—just in case.
“I would say it gives you another level of peace of mind,” said Jennifer. “So why not wear it?”
NOCSAE’s testing is happening right now, and they hope to reveal the results by January. Currently, most Heart Guard shirts cost between $40 and $50.