Damar Hamlin’s on-field cardiac arrest at a Monday Night Football game in January was a moment of national trauma that was televised live. His recovery from the near-death experience and attitude as an individual ultimately inspired the nation. Still, after his decision to play in the National Football League again after his personal medical trauma, many questioned how he had the courage to return.
In a recent interview at the CNBC CEO Council Summit, Hamlin — who attended recent practice sessions with the Bills after being granted full game clearance in April — made it clear that his decision to return to the NFL was never really in question became the approach he has always taken in life, based on what football has always meant to him.
“Football has always been my peace. It was always my escape from the world. And that was sort of where I overcame my fears the most in my life,” Hamlin said at the CNBC CEO event.
Hamlin noted that he also considered statistics when making the decision.
Hamlin suffered from commotio cordis, a rare heart condition that occurs when a blunt blow to the chest occurs at the same moment the heart is preparing to contract. If the physical shock hits during a narrow window of time in the heart’s rhythm — a period of just 20 to 40 milliseconds — it can disrupt the heartbeat and cause sudden cardiac arrest. According to the American Heart Association, there are fewer than 10 cases of commotio cordis per year, and most cases occur in young male athletes, often in youth sports like baseball.
The week after his return to Bills training, the players undertook CPR training. Hamlin has become a prominent heart health spokesperson through a partnership with the American Heart Association and a key supporter of efforts to provide more life-saving essential medical equipment and education in schools. According to the AHA, survival and recovery rates after an episode of commotio cordis are greater than 50% with immediate CPR and defibrillation. Hamlin recently spoke on the subject on Capitol Hill.
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin is seen outside the US Capitol before a news conference on the Access to AEDs Act, which aims to increase access to defibrillators in schools, Wednesday, March 29, 2023.
Tom Williams | CQ Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
Doctors are confident Hamlin is in good enough health to play football again. According to the American Heart Association, it’s very rare for someone to have commotio cordis twice, or for survivors to be more likely to have other heart problems. Commotio cordis is not linked to any underlying heart problems or heart disease.
Research from Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as numerous other studies around the world, has found that one in four cardiac arrest survivors can develop severe post-traumatic stress, which often causes them to avoid situations that might remind them of the health crisis.
Hamlin told CNBC he is focused on the future. “You know, try to look at it as an adversity and not get too involved with what happened. Try to focus on growing from what happened, you know, not trying to dominate the situation, just growing out of it.” Hamlin said.
Watch the full video clip of Hamlin’s interview with NBC Sports’ Maria Taylor at the CNBC CEO Council Summit above to hear the football player speak in his own words about what returning to the NFL means to him.