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Damar Hamlin speaks for the first time since cardiac arrest, expresses gratitude

The Buffalo Bills safety's heart stopped on the field after his tackle of a Bengals player during a Monday Night Football broadcast Jan. 2.
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Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin spoke publicly for the first time since his heart went silent Jan. 2 in the middle of a Monday Night Football game viewed by millions.

It shocked fans when he stayed down after his first-quarter hit on host team Cincinnati's Tee Higgins, and then team health personnel began CPR on the field.

Experts believe Hamlin may have suffered from a rare phenomenon, "commotio cordis," in which the heart is vulnerable for less than a fifth of a second to blunt force that can disrupt its normal rhythm and lead to death in some cases.

Hamlin's recovery countered this dire narrative, however, by setting its own impressive pace, with Saturday marking the milestone of his first public words since the incident.

The Buffalo Bills player said he was in no rush.

"It was important for me to wait and speak publicly at the right time, as it was just a lot to process within my own self, mentally, physically, even spiritually," the safety said.

The player is taking lessons from the episode and thanking doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, hospitals in Cincinnati and Buffalo, team doctors and medical staff, teammates, coaches, team staffers, his mother, father and brother, and the "Bills Mafia" fans who helped him progress.

"What happened to me on Monday Night Football, I feel is a direct example of God using me as a vessel to share my passion and my love directly from my heart with the entire world," Hamlin said. "And now I'm able to give it back to charities and communities all across the world, who need it the most, and that's always been my dream."

A fund-raising account that Hamlin had set up in 2020 to support a toy drive in his home neighborhood in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, was flooded after he was hospitalized. By Saturday night, more than 247,000 donations totaled $9,018,830.

"I don’t even have the words to express the gratitude for the amount of support that was given into that that was something that we started even way before I made it to the NFL," Hamlin said.

The safety appeared to have his greatest gratitude for children — "to all the kids who sent me letters and heartwarming gifts," Hamlin said.

"You mean the world to me," he continued. "You made my day every day. You inspired me to keep dreaming big."