Phil Hughes was the victim of a very rare condition, more often caused by the kind of impact experienced in a car crash.
The ball struck him on the side of his neck, just under the skull, with enough force that it compressed his vertebral artery, which supplies blood to the head. This caused the artery to split – a condition called dissection. Often when this happens it forms blood clots, causing a dangerous restriction of blood flow to the brain. But in Hughes’ case, it had an even more catastrophic consequence, leading to a massive amount of bleeding on his brain.
In cases like this, blood can fill up the space between the brain and the skull, compressing the brain, and causing loss of consciousness.
Such injuries are often fatal immediately, but paramedics, along with New South Wales cricket’s doctor and a trauma specialist who was in the crowd, were able to resuscitate Hughes and keep him alive on the way to hospital. Treating this condition, which is very similar to the kind of damage done by a haemorrhagic stroke, requires the pressure on the brain to be released.
After a CT scan confirming the diagnosis – a vertebral artery dissection with subarachnoid haemorrhage – surgeons at Sydney’s St Vincent Hospital admitted Hughes for extensive surgery, involving the removal of part of his skull, to help relieve pressure on the brain – an 80-minute procedure. After this he was placed into an induced coma to allow the brain to rest, but tragically, there are no guarantees with such a catastrophic injury as this.
The odds of a cricket ball hitting him in this specific spot, with such force, and for the compression of his artery to cause a bleed are all very, very small.
“This was a freakish accident because it was an injury to the neck that caused haemorrhage in the brain,” Cricket Australia’s doctor, Peter Brukner, said. “If you look in the literature there are only 100 cases reported and only one caused by a cricket ball.”
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