Winter 2017

Heart Guard

High-tech chest protector thwarts sudden death in young athletes.

Previous Next

Illustration: Sophia Foster-Dimino

Sometimes rare means deadly. Each year in the U.S., an estimated 15 or 20 young athletes die from commotio cordis, the heart stoppage that occurs when a blow over the left ventricle, most commonly from a baseball, strikes the chest at just the wrong fraction of a moment between heartbeats. Even heavy gear, such as a catcher’s chest protector, has been shown to provide little protection in such cases.

But now Mark Link, ’86, a professor of medicine and director of cardiac electrophysiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and a nationally recognized expert in commotio cordis (“When the Heart Stops Cold,” Summer 2003), has partnered with a sports gear company called Unequal Technologies to create new and more effective protection from the hazard. They’ve spent nearly five years developing a chest guard made of high-grade composite material that offers protection against different impact speeds and types of projectiles while also being light, thin and flexible enough for general athletic wear.

Rob Vito, the head of Unequal Technologies, is confident that he and Link have hit the target. “It’s like our competitors are selling eight tracks and we have MP4s,” he told Newsweek. “Most chest protectors, if you remove the logos and the high price tags, all you’re left with is cheap couch foam.” Doctors at the New England Cardiac Arrhythmia Center at Tufts Medical Center tested Link’s new product in the lab and confirmed that the materials were likely to be effective in stopping commotio cordis. The results were published in March 2016 in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.

“This is the first product to show improvement over a placebo, and that’s what’s so exciting,” said cardiologist Jeffrey Mandak, who serves on the science and health committee for U.S. Lacrosse, the national governing body for the sport. Mandak has been involved in studying commotio cordis since 2000.

Top Stories

Head in the Clouds

There’s never been a good test for how altitude affects a mountain climber’s mental acuity. But recently one of our students took steps to improve things.

In A New Light

With its latest gift, a $15 million donation, the Jaharis Family Foundation Inc. will move the anatomy lab into modern new space and ease the debt burden on students specializing in family medicine.

A Cancer Cell’s Achilles’ Heel

Cell biologist Michael Forgac targets a mechanism that allows cancer to spread.

Heart Guard

High-tech chest protector thwarts sudden death in young athletes.

Open-and-Shut Case

John Santa, ’76, is leading an effort to make doctors’ notes from office visits readily accessible to patients, but not everyone is so eager to see it happen.

Starting Over Again

How a Tufts residency program is helping a small community of Haitian refugees in Lawrence, Massachusetts.

Editor's Picks

The Alzheimer’s Hope

First, neuroscientist Philip Haydon made himself an expert in a little-known area of brain science. Now he is testing a revolutionary new approach that shows great promise for the treatment of this dread modern disease

Big Road Blues

Living near a highway can be bad for your health in a million small ways

Disease Detective

On the trail of health threats around the globe 

Field Marshal

At the height of the Depression and against all odds, Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, ’24, ventured to Mississippi to blaze a resonant new trail in public health

Resistance Fighter

Longtime faculty member Stuart Levy has spent a lifetime studying mechanisms of antibiotic resistance and crusading to abolish the use of antibiotics in animal feed 

The Gift

Over the past 30 years, the live-donor liver transplant program at Lahey Hospital & Medical Center has treated more patients than any comparable program in the country. One of those patients had his life saved thanks to a donation by his son, a Tufts medical student. Here, in their own words, is the story of that experience