Courtesy of CNN
Last June, Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen walked onto the pitch for his country to face Finland in the group stage of the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship in Copenhagen. Little did he know that his life, along with the lives of many others, would be forever changed by this match.
The match remained tied at 0 with less than three minutes left in the half. As a teammate targeted Eriksen on a throw-in, Eriksen made contact with the ball and suddenly collapsed. Confusion quickly turned into panic, with both Danish and Finnish players surrounding Eriksen and frantically waving the medical staff over as thousands of fans stood in disbelief.
Eriksen had suffered a cardiac arrest and was administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). He was proclaimed to be dead for five whole minutes before an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) gave his heart a jumpstart. With his heart finally pumping blood again, Eriksen was rushed to the hospital for immediate surgery. The match, meanwhile, was suspended.
The match was eventually resumed and Finland won 1-0 after forward Joel Pohjanpalo scored in the 60th minute. However, the real victory belonged to Eriksen, who was in stable condition following a surgery where doctors installed an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) to address Eriksen’s arrhythmia. The small medical device serves an important role in resetting the heart following a cardiac arrest.
However, Eriksen’s professional future looked bleak—ICD recipients are generally advised to stay away from most cardio-intensive sports. Fortunately, Eriksen knew that his former teammate, Ajax’s Daley Blind, had been given a similar device and yet was still playing soccer professionally. Eriksen contacted Blind for advice and planned his road to recovery.
Hope grew for Eriksen, as he was inspired by the story of a 71-year-old man who received an ICD and went on to participate in 12 marathons. Furthermore, a 2017 study by the Yale School of Medicine disputed the general consensus around physical activity for those with ICDs. The study selected patients from 61 research sites—42 within North America—and monitored them every six months over a four-year period. The study ultimately concluded that any risk from ICDS to athletes was exceedingly low.
As Eriksen prepared for a return to the pitch, he received disheartening news. His club, Serie A’s Inter Milan, was forced to terminate his contract since ICDs and other certain medical devices are not legal in Italy. Eriksen then signed with Brentford FC, marking his return to the English Premier League (EPL).
On Feb. 26, Eriksen’s long-awaited return to professional soccer finally arrived. The 30-year-old started the game on the sidelines as Brentford hosted Newcastle. Eventually he was substituted in for Mathias Jensen in the 52nd minute. Welcomed by thunderous applause, Eriksen played the rest of the way through, though, the opposing Newcastle walked away with a 2-0 victory.
Fast forward to March 12 and Brentford was looking to secure their second straight victory following the previous week’s 3-1 win over Norwich City. This match, however, came down to the wire, as Burnley FC put up a great fight until the 85th minute. Eriksen recorded his first Premier League assist in over 800 days with a pass to striker Ivan Toney, who put Brentford up 1-0 with just five minutes remaining in regulation.
Though it was an emotional moment for Eriksen, the lead was still slim as Burnley fought for an equalizer. In the fourth minute of stoppage time, Eriksen found Toney again for what might’ve been another assist. Toney was instead fouled by Nathan Collins and awarded a penalty kick. Thankfully, he nailed it and sealed the much-needed 2-0 victory for Brentford. Their next EPL match will be one on the road, with a trip to No. 12 Leicester City.
With Eriksen officially back in action and making waves, Brentford’s chances of moving up in the EPL standings are better than ever. On another note, Eriksen’s story is a momentous win for medical devices, as ICDs have proven that they can keep the heart going with even the most strenuous of physical activities. Hopefully, Eriksen’s story will inspire athletes and scientists alike to keep pushing, no matter the challenge ahead.