By JOHN WAWROW (AP Sports Writer)
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Having spent the past several months meeting President Joe Biden, raising millions of dollars for his charitable foundation and promoting the benefits of CPR training, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin can focus now on the next big objective in his life: returning to football.
Wearing a red woolen cap and a Bills blue pullover, Hamlin sat at the podium on Tuesday and said his heart — the one that stopped beating some four months ago during a game in Cincinnati — was, as he put it, “still in the game.”
“This was a life-changing event, but it’s not the end of my story,” Hamlin said. “I plan on making a comeback to the NFL.”
Addressing reporters for the first time since going into cardiac arrest and having to be resuscitated on the field, Hamlin reflected on the anxious moments he’s endured, his inner drive to not let fear stand in his way and how he no longer takes a minute of his life for granted.
“The ‘wow’ moment is every day just being able to wake up and just take deep breaths and live a peaceful life, to have a family and people that are around me that love me,” said Hamlin, who has been medically cleared to play and is taking part in the start of the Bills’ voluntary workout program.
“They almost lost me. Like I died on national TV, you know what I mean?” he added. “So that right there is the biggest blessing of it all, for me to still have my people, and my people still have me.”
General manager Brandon Beane announced earlier in the day that Hamlin was medically cleared to return to football after the 25-year-old met with a third and final specialist on Friday. All three agreed Hamlin could resume playing without any fear of setbacks or complications. While the Bills had their head athletic trainer sit in on those meetings, Beane said the team is following the lead of the specialists.
“He’s such a great kid and has such a great family, and it’s exciting to go from a guy who was fighting for his life to now,” Beane said. “His story hasn’t been written. Now it’s about his comeback.”
Hamlin said the specialists agreed his heart stopped as a result of commotio cordis, which is a direct blow at a specific point in a heartbeat that causes cardiac arrest.
His next steps will be no different from any other NFL player in his bid to secure a roster spot. Hamlin will return to the field when the team’s voluntary spring practices begin next month, followed by mandatory practices in June and then training camp in late July.
His teammates were elated to see him back in the facility working out.
“D-Ham is a special person, a beautiful soul,” fellow safety Micah Hyde said. “I look up to him, especially how he’s bounced back after facing adversity. A little scary. But to see him well and in the building and move around a little bit, it gives you a little energy.”
Hamlin’s recovery is personal to many who watched in shock as Hamlin collapsed on the field on a nationally televised “Monday Night Football” game, but moreso for Beane. While the Bills returned home after the game initially was suspended and eventually canceled, Beane spent the first four days at Hamlin’s side, including when he was awakened from a medically induced coma at the University Cincinnati Medical Center.
“It was all about his health, and it’s always going to be about his health,” Beane said. “But to truly, you know, however many months later be talking about he’s fully cleared is pretty remarkable. And I’m excited for him and his family for where they are on his journey.”
Hamlin collapsed after making what appeared to be a routine tackle in the first quarter of a Jan. 2 game against the Bengals. His collapse led to an outpouring of support from around the NFL and across North America, with donations made to Hamlin’s charitable organization topping more than $9 million.
The second-year player from Pittsburgh’s exurb of McKee’s Rock spent nearly 10 days recovering in hospitals in Cincinnati and Buffalo before being released. He eventually began visiting the Bills’ facility and attended the team’s season-ending 27-10 loss to the Bengals in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Hamlin recalled watching football on TV while lying in his hospital bed in Cincinnati when the thought of playing again first entered his mind.
“Just watching teams play, watching other safeties play, that’s where I saw and felt my love for the game,” he said. “That’s where I was just like, ‘I don’t want to be done yet.’”
Hamlin said specialists advised him that returning to football could have mental health benefits, which include enjoying the camaraderie of being among teammates.
“I’m just taking it one day at a time. That’s where I’m at in this process. Any time I try to think too forward, it gets cloudy,” he said. “I’ve got a long journey to go, but I’m committed to it each day.”
Hamlin has since made numerous appearances around the country, including meeting with Biden last month.
Biden posted a tweet on the visit that read: “Hamlin’s courage, resilience, and spirit inspired the American people. And what’s more: he turned recovery into action — and our country is better for it.”
Hamlin’s visit to Washington came as part of the player’s desire to back a bill that would increase access to defibrillators in public and private elementary and secondary schools.
During the Super Bowl festivities in Arizona in February, he received the NFLPA’s Alan Page Community Award. He also took part in a pregame ceremony in which the NFL honored the Bills’ and Bengals’ training and medical staffs and first responders who treated him.
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