May 24, 2021
TOWSON, Md. —A recent routine play at a high school lacrosse game nearly turned tragic. Heroic efforts from the training staff saved a boy’s life.
It’s an incident that shines a bright light on a rare, but possibly fatal, injury — attention that is needed for all of lacrosse.
Commotio cordis is not something most people outside of the medical profession have ever heard of, but it nearly claimed the life of Loyola Blakefield freshman Peter Laake. It’s a story with a happy ending and one that puts attention on how to prevent the tragedy from ever happening again.
On April 16, Loyola Blakefield hosted McDonogh in a typical, physical lacrosse game. But late in the first quarter, typical turned to terror. A routine shot from a McDonogh player struck Loyola freshman defenseman Peter Laake directly in the chest.
“I remember getting hit and I remember looking toward the ball at the moment because it bounced back toward the stick and he passed it somewhere, and I was looking for the ball and then I got very dizzy and blacked out and then I remember waking up,” Laake said.
Loyola trainer Jeremy Parr was among the first to respond.
“When I came up to him, I tried to determine his alertness and awareness and level of consciousness and he wasn’t responding to anything that I was asking for. He didn’t appear to be breathing on his own. It was more like a gasping reflex and then I couldn’t find a pulse,” Parr said.
“We were terrified. I think all of us were terrified, from the sideline to the guys next to him, we were all really scared in that moment,” said teammate A.J. Larkin.
“I just kept thinking, ‘He’ll be fine.’ And then, you know, 10 seconds later, I was in a complete frenzy that he’s not going to make it,” said his mother, Carron Laake.
Fortunately, there was an action plan in place. Chest compressions from on-site doctors followed by the use of an automated external defibrillator. The AED shocked Peter’s heart, like hitting the reset butting and that brought him back to life.
“I heard voices for a couple seconds and my eyes wouldn’t open for a couple seconds. But when my eyes did open, I remember seeing seven to eight people just in a circle around me. So, (it was) pretty crazy,” Peter Laake said.
“It was a perfect storm for it to happen. It was a perfect response from everyone and just a great group effort to get, to have Peter come back,” Parr said.
Heroic action without hesitation saved Peter Laake’s life. But why did this happen? The speed and power of the shot? No, instead it’s a very rare cardiac emergency called commotio cordis.
“It is an odd situation where there is a compression to the chest at a very particular point in the heart cycle that causes the cart to go into V-tach,” said Dr. Richard Hinton, of MedStar Health.
Ventricular tachycardia is an irregular heart rhythm.
“So it’s infrequent, but as we were talking about, catastrophic,” Hinton said.
Infrequent, but without expert medical personnel and the AED device at the ready, likely fatal. Fortunately, preventative help is on the way.
On Jan. 1, 2022, a chest protector that will prevent commotio cordis will become mandatory. Goalies are already required to wear the approved gear, and next year, all boys must wear the approved chest protector. USA Lacrosse took the lead on promoting awareness to get this done.
“(I’m) just so thankful that we had this positive story with Peter and his family so we can talk about what really needs to be in place, where you can go to get the resources to make the experience as fun and safe as possible,” said Ann Kitt Carpenetti, USA Lacrosse vice president of U.S. operations.
It’s a happy ending that won’t go to waste.
“I’m definitely wearing it now. Definitely protecting myself,” Peter Laake said. “It’s not something that you want to go through. Now that it’s happened to me, I just don’t want anyone else to have the same experience.”