GARFIELD, N.J. (CBS 2) — Family and friends were gathering at a funeral home Monday night to mourn the loss of a talented teenage athlete.
A padded chest protector wasn’t enough to prevent a fatal injury when he was hit by a pitch.
A tribute in lights was held at Garfield High School, where grief counselors were helping students after the sudden death of 16-year-old Tommy Adams.
“Everyone’s, like, really broken up over it,” one student told CBS 2’s Tony Aiello.
“It’s pretty sad, that someone could die so young, and they’re wearing their protective equipment and stuff,” James Rochester added.
Tommy’s grief-stricken dad was struggling to accept what happened.
“My best friend’s gone. I just dropped him off, now he’s not here. It’s just hard to think, can’t fathom it,” Thomas Adams said.
The teen was wearing catcher’s gear at an indoor winter baseball practice. He was hit by a pitch in the chest and was dead within minutes.
Aiello put on a chest protector to get a sense of the kind of protection it provides. And with it on, he said it’s hard to imagine a thrown baseball hitting it could cause a fatal injury, but doctors said under certain tragic circumstances it can happen.
Like when a ball hits the chest within a 10- to 20-millisecond period.
A pediatric cardiologist told Aiello a chest protector won’t stop an injury called “commotio cordis.”
It happens when something impacts the chest at just the right moment in the cardiac cycle, disrupting the heart’s normal rhythm.
“Where the heart is quivering, or shivering, it’s not really pumping efficiently at all, and that’s basically a lethal rhythm,” Dr. Fuad Kiblawi said.
Nationwide, “commotio cordis” strikes about three young athletes a year.
Like his Yankees hero Thurman Munson, Tommy Adams died too soon.
Experts said a 40 mph pitch is all it takes to cause the fatal heart rhythm.