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FOX 4 investigates effectiveness of baseball safety equipment designed to protect players’ chests

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Every time a child steps on the baseball field, they risk getting hurt, and every year, several children in the United States die from a ball hitting them in the chest. New safety equipment is meant to keep your kid safe, but does it work?

The crack of the bat is sweet music to 10-year-old boys playing the game they love. They know the hard ball coming right at them can hurt if it hits them. Miles Hignite wears a unique shirt as an added layer of protection called a heart guard, his mother bought it for him two years ago. It has special padding that covers his chest, sides and stomach.

"I just feel like it protects me, like, if something ever comes and hits me really hard in the chest, it will protect me even more," Miles said.

"I am often concerned about the ball, the line drives coming straight towards him," mom Jennifer Hignite said. "I read a story actually that kids could get injured by balls, fly balls actually hitting them in the chest and causing heart arrhythmias or injuries to the chest.

There is one baseball injury, though, that scares parents more than any other. Called commotio cordis, when a ball hits a player in the chest in the milliseconds between heartbeats.

"It is right at the moment of impact, the heart stops working," Children's Mercy Hospital Dr. James Roberson said. "If it hits at the exact right spot, just pure bad luck, it starts to heart into ventricular fibrillation, which is death."

Between 10 and 20 young athletes die from commotio cordis every year, with those under age 15 at the highest risk. Doctors say only CPR or a defibrillator can revive them. Several companies have come out with padded shirts worn under the uniform, as an attempt to protect against sudden cardiac arrest.

Researchers tested them on young pigs since their hearts are like humans. Throwing baseballs at 40-miles an hour revealed a disturbing trend. Not one of the heart guards worked. In fact, researchers say about one-third of those who experienced commotio cordis were already wearing a chest protector when they died.

NOCSAE, the organization that tests athletic equipment, is currently working with manufacturers to create a material kids can wear that will be effective should they be hit in the chest with a hard ball.

"It's physics. And if they can come up with some good chest protectors that really do distribute force away from the front of the heart, that should work.

Until then, Miles will continue to wear his extra padding - just in case.

"I would say it just gives you another level of peace of mind. So why not wear it?" his mom said.

NOCSAE is testing a bunch of heart guard shirts right now and hopes to reveal the results in January so you'll know exactly which shirt to buy your child. By the way if you wanted to buy a shirt today, they cost about $40-$50.

Many athletic complexes in the metro have defibrillators at the fields thanks to donations from the Henning Foundation of Kansas City. That way if a child does go into cardiac arrest, they can use it to try to revive them.