Euro 2020

Eriksen defibrillator aims to cheat death - but return to football doubtful

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Christian Eriksen (Photo by Martin Meissner - Pool/Getty Images)
Christian Eriksen (Photo by Martin Meissner - Pool/Getty Images)

Danish footballer Christian Eriksen is to be fitted with a type of miniature defibrillator to detect and correct heart rhythm disorders to prevent the repeat of a near-fatal heart attack.

The Inter Milan player had to be revived after his heart stopped in the middle of a Euro match on Saturday, casting a dark shadow over his career.

What is this device?

It is an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, or ICD. Like its better-known cousin, the pacemaker, an ICD is made up of one or more leads and a small housing placed under the skin. The leads can be inserted through a blood vessel directly into the heart or placed under the skin, in contact with the chest wall.

How does it work?

Via the lead, the device detects heart rhythm disorders and corrects them if necessary. If the heart is beating too slowly, the ICD can send weak electrical impulses to speed it up. In this case, it works like a pacemaker. But unlike a pacemaker, the ICD can also prevent the heart from beating too fast.

"The idea is to prevent sudden death," cardiologist Jeremy Descoux told AFP.

The device can determine whether the increased heart rate (tachycardia) is normal, worrying or even very dangerous. Based on this, it can trigger several responses.

"The therapy of last resort is an electric shock," Descoux says.

This works as a miniaturised version of the defibrillators installed in public places in case of emergency.

The device can also send a series of rapid pulses to regain control of the heart's rhythm.

"It can help you get over the hump without delivering an electric shock, which can be a bit traumatic," Descoux says.

Will Eriksen play again?

"In my opinion, it's over," Descoux says.

"Unless we find a pathology that caused [the accident] without any link to sport."

Since Eriksen's accident, the parallel has been drawn with Dutchman Daley Blind, who resumed his career after having a heart device fitted.

But Blind was diagnosed with myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) in 2019 after suffering dizziness in the middle of a match. In 2020, he again collapsed during a match after his device failed. He left the field conscious and under his own power.

In Eriksen's case, "the problem is that you have a player who has suddenly died... 'Do I expose my patient to do again what was a problem the first time?'"

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