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Video: Buffalo Bills athletic trainers honored for saving Damar Hamlin's life

Jul 29, 2023

"We have the best ending ... We have a young man that gets to live and be an advocate for CPR and AEDs," said Bills Assistant Trainer Denny Kellington

By Mike MacAdamThe Daily Gazette

ALBANY, N.Y. — It could've happened to a college softball player getting hit in the chest with a thrown ball.

It could've been a woman suddenly prone in the stands while a high school basketball game was in progress.

It could've happened in front of a couple thousand fans at a college hockey game, a player suddenly in desperate need of medical attention after catching a skate blade in the neck.

You probably weren't there.

It's likely you know Damar Hamlin's story, though, even if you weren't among the 65,000 in attendance at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati on Jan. 3.

The New York State Senate and Assembly invited almost a dozen athletic trainers to the state Capitol on Wednesday to offer a resolution in recognition of National Athletic Training Month and to spotlight a legislative effort to update how athletic trainers are licensed so there's no ambiguity about qualifications when someone is hired to cover an event.

Among those invited was Buffalo Bills assistant trainer Denny Kellington, who administered CPR to Hamlin when the Bills safety collapsed after making a tackle during a Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

At a morning press conference on Wednesday, Kellington and Bills head trainer Nate Breske told their life-saving story, as did a variety of other athletic trainers, in an effort to emphasize the importance not only of keeping professional standards updated, but also of the general public to be trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and for automated external defibrillators (AED) to be more widely accessible.

"We have the best ending," Kellington said. "We have a young man that gets to live and be an advocate for CPR and AEDs across this country.

"The events of that night will live with us forever. Personally, I believe the last 27 years of my life of practicing CPR, AEDs and emergency action plans prepared us for that moment. However, anyone can learn bystander CPR. Anyone can go to your local Red Cross and learn CPR and AED use."

"There was so much that went into that moment, so much preparation, so much training and so much we did as athletic trainers to be ready for that situation," Breske said. "And we've got a bunch of other people here who have done the same thing and had saves and had such an impact on people's lives that we have a platform to make this even bigger."

Hamlin, who suffered cardiac arrest as a result of the hit in the Bengals game, required his heartbeat to be restored right on the field. Four minutes after his collapse, he was taken away in an ambulance in front of stunned, hushed Bills and Bengals fans.

Two days later, he remained in critical condition, but had woken up and shown small, initial signs of recovery.

By Feb. 12, he was well enough to make a special on-field appearance at the Super Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, accompanied by medical and training staff.

For saving Damar Hamlin's life, Buffalo Bills staff among athletic trainers honored at state Capital - 3/29/23 More at #Bills #BuffaloBills #BillsMafia #damarhamlin #cpr #newyork #Albany #AlbanyNY

Cardiac arrest happens to people all the time, but it seemed inconceivable that it could happen to an NFL player in the middle of a game.

Kellington said his training didn't allow room for internal debate about what was conceivable or not. Observation of Hamlin's condition and immediate action were the only considerations.

"There were checklists that we go through, and I can't go into specifics about what we did on the field, and there were certain situations that led to that, and at that time, that's why we have to enact our emergency action plan," he said. "That's why we had to rely on our training and why, as you can see on the video, when you see us run out there, we are very hurried, very deliberate in our decision-making and methodical.

"Because we knew pretty quickly that it was not your routine football play, and in that situation we rely on our group, our doctors, Nate and myself, and the other team, the Bengals helped us get our squad out there. We knew pretty quickly that it rose to a very high situation.

"Our focus was solely on Damar. You sort of go — I don't want to use the word 'automatic' — but it was like freaking autopilot, just making sure that everything was done appropriately. And, honestly, it was."

There is optimism that Hamlin will be able to return to the field of play.

Rapid Response: Paramedics get ROSC as world watches NFL player's on-field treatment

When Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in cardiac arrest, he received out-of-hospital BLS and ALS care from team personnel and EMS before transport to the hospital

Meanwhile, his high-profile story has made obvious impact.

He was in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday meeting with members of Congress in support of the bipartisan Access to AEDs Act, which would direct grants to elementary and secondary schools.

But the work of athletic trainers in life-threatening situations at all levels reinforces the need for more CPR training and access to AEDs.

Kurt Pfaffenbach, an athletic trainer in the South Colonie Central School District, recounted at the Capitol how he administered CPR to a woman who had stopped breathing at a basketball game. Twenty-five years later, he received a letter of gratitude from the woman's daughter, who was a cheerleader at that game.

On Jan. 5, Army hockey player Eric Huss suffered a severe laceration to his neck in a game against Sacred Heart in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Army trainer Rachel Leahy sprinted onto the ice, and because it was her hands applying pressure to stop the bleeding, she had to be hoisted with Huss in that position onto the ambulance.

They were all the way to the emergency room before it was safe for her to let go. By Jan. 27, Huss was back in the lineup for the Black Knights.

And Fordham University's Bridget Ward saved the life of a softball player who had been hit in the chest with a ball, performing CPR and administering an AED that Ward had brought along even though she hadn't been scheduled to work that game.

"I have known this student-athlete for three years, so having to do CPR on someone you're very close to is traumatic," Ward said.

So much so, that Ward got herself certified to be a Basic Life Support (BLS) and CPR instructor.

"That's the most important thing we can learn from this [Hamlin] event, that it's OK to use this as a teaching moment for everybody," Kellington said. "Not just for athletics, but for the general population. That's what's most important, your loved ones, in case something happens to them. Who's going to help them? Or who's going to help you if you have an event? Make sure your wife or your kids are CPR-certified. Or just know bystander CPR. It's pretty remarkable what humans can do for other people."

"You never know when you could save a life," Ward said.


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