ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Where Damar Hamlin once wondered if life would ever be the same again during his quest to resume his football career following a near-death experience, the Buffalo Bills safety caught a glimpse of what his new normal might be this week.
On Labor Day, Hamlin visited a riverside park in Buffalo to hold a camp for children, where he joined them in playing football, bought them lunch and haircuts, handed out backpacks and promoted CPR training.
And coming up on Monday night, he'll be at a much larger venue in the Meadowlands, where Hamlin will have the opportunity to make his comeback complete when the Bills open their season facing the New York Jets.
“Yes sir. This is the entirety of it. This is a big, big, big big piece of the new normal,” Hamlin said Monday in his first public appearance since making the Bills' 53-player roster.
“You can never take it for granted because, you know, the NFL, they say it stands for Not For Long,” he added. “So to be able to go through my situation and then be able to come back and still show that I can still do it is super big.”
As for what it will feel like to be on the field on Monday night, Hamlin kept his feelings to himself as he declined interview requests later in the week.
There is a degree of symmetry to Hamlin’s return.
The story started with the unsettling sight of the 25-year-old going into cardiac arrest and requiring resuscitation on the field during a game in Cincinnati in front of a “Monday Night Football” audience on Jan. 2. And his celebrated return to play — however many snaps he’ll get, if any, in a backup role — will occur before yet another prime-time national audience.
“Just incredible, amazing, all the words, adjectives you’d use to describe something as unique as what he’s been through,” coach Sean McDermott said. “I’m extremely proud of Damar and the work he’s put in. Incredible journey to get back to where he is.”
It’s a journey that's taken Hamlin from waking up from a medically induced coma in a Cincinnati hospital two days after he collapsed following what appeared to be a routine tackle, to swallowing any feelings of trepidation by putting on his pads and making one tackle after another — nine in total — during three preseason games.
Listed as the fourth safety on Buffalo's depth chart, Hamlin's playing time is expected to be limited to mostly special teams roles barring injuries to starters Jordan Poyer or Micah Hyde.
Against Cincinnati, Hamlin was starting in place of an injured Hyde when his heart stopped as a result of commotio cordis, which is when a direct blow at a specific point in a heartbeat causes cardiac arrest. Doctors have assured Hamlin he can resume playing without any fear of setbacks or complications.
Hamlin’s life is forever changed. His mission to play football will now be shared with a desire to make a positive change in children’s lives thanks to the raised platform he’s gained and some $10 million in donations made to his charitable foundation, Chasing M's.
“Every time he steps out on the field, I think he gives you a little bit of motivation,” Poyer said. “I know it gives me a little juice.”
Hamlin's been an inspiration for American Heart Association account director Jennifer Pratt as well. She referred to “The Hamlin Affect” that the player has had in raising awareness for CPR training and donating automated external defibrillators to school and community athletic programs around the country.
“Devastatingly, of the 350,000 people who have a cardiac arrest outside of the hospital each year, only one in 10 survive,” Pratt said. “Together, with Damar as our national ambassador, we truly are building a nation of life-savers.”
Hamlin knows he's among the fortunate few by having collapsed during an NFL game and received treatment almost immediately from a team of doctors, trainers and first responders.
“As my story shows, we all know that CPR saves lives, and it comes down to somewhere, some day, somebody is going to need help,” Hamlin told the crowd attending his charitable event. “To the people that came out to learn CPR today, you could be that person. You could be that person that has me here today standing in front of you once again.”
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