How CAN Christian Eriksen still play football after his heart attack?


Danish footballer Christian Eriksen today played for his national side against Tunisia in his first major tournamment since collapsing on the pitch 18 months ago.

In May 2021, he had suffered a cardiac arrest in the 42nd minute of Denmark’s first game of the European Championship against Finland in Copenhagen. 

Describing the incident, Eriksen said he was ‘gone from this world for five minutes’. He was resuscitated and rushed to hospital. 

Despite what some believed to be a career-finishing medical condition, the 30-year-old made a remarkable return to the Premier League with Brentford in February this year thanks to an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD).

The Manchester United midfielder is the first known top-flight footballer to be fitted with the matchbox-sized device, which is implanted in those thought to be at risk of cardiac arrest at some point in the future.

It works by sending electrical shocks to the heart to make it start pumping again — effectively rebooting it when it fails.

Today, he was in the starting line up in Denmark’s first World Cup Game against Tunisia in Qatar. Manager Kasper Hjulmand described him as the ‘heartbeat of the team’.

Danish footballer Christian Eriksen today played for his national side against Tunisia (pictured) in his first major tournamment since collapsing on the pitch 18 months ago

In May 2021, he had suffered a cardiac arrest in the 42nd minute of Denmark's first game of the European Championship against Finland in Copenhagen (pictured)

In May 2021, he had suffered a cardiac arrest in the 42nd minute of Denmark’s first game of the European Championship against Finland in Copenhagen (pictured)

ICDs work by sending electrical shocks to the heart to make it start pumping again ¿ effectively rebooting it when it fails

ICDs work by sending electrical shocks to the heart to make it start pumping again — effectively rebooting it when it fails

While playing Finland in the first half of the opening game of the Euros in summer 2021, Eriksen suffered a cardiac arrest.

This is when the heart stops beating altogether due to problem with the organ’s electrical signals, which prevents blood from pumping around the body.

Sufferers will die within minutes unless they are treated with CPR.

His teammates called for assistance, which saw medics give Eriksen CPR and use an automated external defibrillator to restart his heart. 

What is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD)? 

An ICD is a small device which can treat people with dangerously abnormal heart rhythms.

It sends electrical pulses to regulate abnormal heart rhythms, especially those that could be dangerous and cause a cardiac arrest.

An ICD is placed under the skin, usually in the space just below the collar bone to monitor your heart rate. 

Thin wires connect the ICD to the heart, which constantly check heart rate and rhythm.

People may need an ICD if they have suffered a life-threatening abnormal heart rhythm, are at risk of having one in the future or have heart failure. 

The device is fitted in a procedure that takes one to three hours.

Source: British Heart Foundation

Eriksen was taken off the pitch in a stretcher and the match was temporarily suspended. Around an hour later, officials confirmed that he was awake and stable and the match re-started. 

Eriksen has said he has no family history of heart problems and had regular heart scans throughout his career. Every played in England’s Premier and Football League clubs are tested when they sign their first contract and at 18 and 20-years-old.

But it was later confirmed he had suffered a cardiac arrest and was fitted with an ICD over concerns of the condition rearing its head again in the future. 

ICDs, which are placed under the skin, can sense when the heart is beating at a potentially dangerous abnormal rate and deliver an electrical shock to the heart. This usually helps the heart to return to a normal rhythm. 

A recently as a decade ago, doctors advised those with ICDs not to engage in strenuous exercise.

But US researchers conducted a study to get to the bottom of this advice. They monitored 440 sportspeople with ICDs over four years.

A tenth of the athletes had received a shock from their device while playing sport — suggesting they were about to suffer a cardiac arrest, results showed.

But none of the athletes suffered complications or died and none of the ICDs failed — suggesting the risk of exercise is low for those fitted with the devices. 

However, Eriksen had to leave his former club, Inter Milan, because the Italian Football Association does not allow those fitted with the device to play in amateur or professional leagues.

Despite many expecting him to retire, he agreed to join Premier League club Brentford in January this year.

He then made his return to football in February, coming on in the 52nd minute in a game against Newcastle United — with his side losing 2-0.

Eriksen was then signed in a three-year deal with Manchester United in July.

Cardiac arrests are slightly different to heart attacks, which occur when there is a sudden interruption in the blood supply to part of the heart. 

Heart disease, heart inflammation and an inherited heart condition are some of the main causes of cardiac arrest. 

While exercise is good for heart health, intense levels of physical activity can trigger cardiac arrest in athletes who unwittingly have underlying heart conditions.

Along with Eriksen, Fabrice Muamba, 34, collapsed when suffered a cardiac arrest in March 2012 while playing for Bolton Wanderers and had no heart beat for 78 minutes. He made a full recovery.

However, Marc-Vivienne Foe, who played for West Ham United and Cameroon, suffered a fatal cardiac arrest when his national team played Colombia in June 2003.

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