Local technology protects young baseball hearts

1:01 PM, Jun 18, 2012   |    comments
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BOGART, Ga. -- Meredith Kahlstorf's 12-year-old son is a baseball fanatic. "It's everything to him," she said.

When a ball hits a child on the field, there's always a gasp from parents on both teams. "You always worry," she said. "You always have those circumstances that you think the worst."

Sometimes, that worry turns to panic. It could be called a freak accident, but it's happened a documented 188 times since 1996. Doctors suspect the real number is much higher. It's called commotio cordis: when a blow to the heart at just the wrong time causes it to stop.

It happens most often in youth baseball, and it's almost always fatal.

"As a young kid, the first time you step onto the diamond, your biggest fear is being hit by a baseball," Stan Payne said. 
"It's hard, it doesn't give, and when it hits you, it hurts."

Payne pitched the University of Georgia to their 1990 national championships, played for the Oakland A's until 1997, and is a dad. 

"One thing that we found is parents aren't educated to the point to where they are aware they need protection," he said of the dangers of commotio cordis.  

Sixty percent of commotio cordis events happen when a player takes a direct hit to the chest. Batters are especially vulnerable from the side when they can get hit by the pitcher. The other 40 percent of cases happen when the player is hit from the side or back.

Payne helped found EvoShield. The Bogart-based company makes all kinds of sports shields for baseball, football, hockey, and lacrosse. 

The chest pad protectors come sealed in plastic and foil. Once they're exposed to the air, their unique resin shapes to a player's body and hardens in about 30 minutes.

Will Kahlstorf wears the special EvoShield shirt with font and back pads. The 12-year-old said the pads make him feel more confident. "It feels like it's just your skin," he said. "You don't even feel it."

Garrett Green is about to be a high school junior. He's already made a verbal commitment to play for the University of Georgia. "It was a dream come true for me," he said. "That's all I ever wanted to do, and that call made it feel like all my hard work paid off.

He's been wearing the EvoShield elbow, wrist, and chest guard for years. But, recently, had an accident that could have stopped his baseball career before it even started.

"A couple of months ago, I forgot to wear my elbow guard," he said. "I got hit by a 90-mile-per-hourfast ball. It's the fastest pitch I ever faced. My arm swelled up. I was lucky I didn't break anything. Really lucky."

Garrett and Will have both been hit with and without the EvoShield and said they have felt the difference.

"In that same spot, I've been hit before with it, and I didn't feel a thing," Garrett said.

"It hit me right here," Will said, pointing to the center of his chest. "It felt like a little thump, but it didn't leave a mark on my skin."

Payne explains because the shields take the energy from a hit and disperse them over a large surface area.

Quarterback Robert Griffin, III just signed on an EvoShield endorsement. RG3 plays for the Redskins, one of 19 NFL teams that use EvoShield. You can often spot the logo on the plate at MLB games. Thirty teams use the guards.

Garrett Green says he's noticed the big stars sporting the local product, but he wears it for his own simple reason: "I don't want to get hurt, because I want to play the game every day."

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