Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin appeared on Good Morning America Monday in his first television interview since the American football player collapsed mid-game on the field last month, suffering cardiac arrest.
In the interview, Hamlin credits the team’s athletic trainer, Denny Kellington, as his “savior” after Kellington resuscitated him on the field when he collapsed during the Jan. 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“I owe Denny my life, literally,” Hamlin told the show’s host, Michael Strahan. “He loves to say he was just doing his job, but that night, he was literally the savior of my life—you know—administering CPR on me.”
“If it wasn’t for someone showing up that day with a clear mind and whatever’s going on in their personal life, just to put it aside and just to be present in the moment to actually be able to do their job correctly—that’s something I’m truly thankful for and I don’t take for granted,” Hamlin added.
Hamlin also opened up about his recovery, the events of that day, waking up in the hospital, and his future in football.
Strahan asked Hamlin what the first thing he remembered was when he regained consciousness. He replied that he heard his family members around him and the first thing he said to them was “did we win?”
“I’m competitive, I’m playing with my full heart, everything I got in me. That competitive nature in me was still thinking about the game,“ he recalled.
The 24-year-old was in critical condition for days after he was injured during the first quarter of the game. Hamlin had tackled Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, who rammed into Hamlin at high speed. Kellington spent 10 minutes performing CPR on Hamlin before he was resuscitated and rushed to the hospital.
Hamlin spent nearly a week in the intensive care unit at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center before being transferred to a hospital in Buffalo. He was discharged from the hospital just nine days after the game, surpassing doctor’s expectations. Hamlin’s collapse spurred conversations on cardiac issues in young people and the dangers of football.
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When asked by Strahan if medical professionals thought his recovery could have gone another way, Hamlin said a doctor told him he “won the game of life” and this gave him a lot of perspective. “Things could have went differently and the details of the situation of everything that happened on the field, it could have been the last of me,” he added.
Hamlin also revealed that he watched the video footage of his accident once or twice while recovering in intensive care, but he struggled to watch it again after that. He said that watching the video back was “a crazy feeling” and said he is still processing it.
Following his recovery, Hamlin is teaming up with the American Heart Association and running a campaign to educate people on heart health and the importance of CPR, aiming to train 3 million people in CPR.
Hamlin received the prestigious NFLPA’s Alan Page award Wednesday for his charitable work. He was later spotted enjoying Sunday’s Super Bowl in Arizona with the medical staff who aided his recovery.
Read More: The Historic Significance of a Super Bowl With Two Black Starting Quarterbacks
Hamlin’s appearance at the game also received a mixed reaction from fans over his choice of a jacket. The garment—designed by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami—depicted a distorted cartoon resembling the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which some took as a mockery of the religious figure.
The athlete said in the interview that he is grateful for his second chance to “live normally” but he refused to discuss what caused his cardiac arrest, citing ongoing tests. He added that he is physically “doing great” and practicing mindful breathing every day but his emotional journey is taking longer.
“I’m still working through things,” he said. “I’m still trying to process all the emotions and the trauma that comes from, you know, dealing with a situation like that and not really having people around or, you know, like, no one in my immediate circle who’s dealt with something like that,” Hamlin said.
Hamlin said he eventually wants to return to the football field but the decision is in God’s hands. He told Strahan that medical professionals have not concluded how feasible this would be because “it’s a long road” and they are more focused on getting him back to normal first.
— ARMANI SYED CONTRIBUTED REPORTING / LONDON
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