ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — With a line beginning to form, stretching across Highmark Stadium, Damar Hamlin and his father, Mario, took a beat to capture the moment. As Damar Hamlin held his phone in front of his face for the picture, Mario Hamlin got in the frame and the pair smiled brightly alongside an automated external defibrillator (AED) that Damar Hamlin was holding up.
The group of people was made up of 50 Buffalo-area youth tackle football teams that had all come to receive an AED, which were distributed by Hamlin on Saturday at the Bills’ Hands-Only CPR event, which is also the first stop of Hamlin’s CPR Tour, the first program of his Chasing M’s Foundation.
The device and CPR were both used by the Bills’ medical and athletic training staff to save Hamlin’s life on Jan. 2 after he experienced cardiac arrest during a Buffalo Bills‘ regular-season game at the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bills safety is now working, through Chasing M’s, to raise awareness for CPR and AED education and training and encouraging children to live their dreams.
Hamlin, 25, announced at the event that the CPR tour will feature stops in multiple other cities, including Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, Hamlin’s hometown. Each stop will include CPR training and the distribution of AEDs to support youth sports and community groups. The importance of this education comes from nearly three out of four cardiac arrests outside of the hospital occurring in homes, per the American Heart Association.
“According to the most recently published scientific data, about 90% of the 350,000 people who experience a cardiac arrest outside of the hospital each year will not survive,” Jason Stulb, executive director of the American Heart Association, said.
CPR, especially if performed immediately, can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival.
“The Chasing M’s Foundation will be giving AEDs to sports and community groups for kids to be safe while they are chasing their dreams,” Hamlin said. “And this program is very important, because it gives lifesaving care to kids in their own communities and on their fields.”
Hamlin’s mother, Nina, who held onto a “We (heart) 3” sign for Hamlin throughout the event, and 8-year-old brother, Damir, were also in attendance. The safety spent time with the youth teams, including throwing a football with some kids.
In total, more than 1,000 people learned Hands-Only CPR at the event, held by the Bills with the American Heart Association and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York as part of a $1 million commitment by the Bills over five years to the American Heart Association. There was education on how to use the AEDs by Stryker, a medical technology company, with Hamlin’s family also taking time to learn. The Bills will also hold a second free mass CPR training event next Saturday.
Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation raised over $9 million in the days after he went to the hospital in Cincinnati, with the money going through GoFundMe for a toy drive that had an initial goal of $2,500. The charity was initially started when Hamlin was still in college at Pittsburgh.
“Before I got into the NFL, I had started my foundation doing things like toy drives for kids in my community, hosting camps and things like that, just wanting to play my part and giving back to my community,” Hamlin said. “Growing up I always wanted that figure in my life that could show me the right things to do, you know, kind of my personal experience was learning from what not to do. So, having that true guidance of what to do, what true steps to take it, it really makes a big difference in a kid’s life to give that direct direction.”
Hamlin announced in April that he was cleared to return to football, and the Bills have continued to take his progress one day at a time, coach Sean McDermott said. Hamlin has attended the Bills’ two organized team activity sessions open to the media and has been a limited participant in some individual drills.
The NFL expanded its Smart Health Sports Coalition, with the goal of advocating for all 50 states to adopt policies that will help prevent fatalities from sudden cardiac arrest among athletes, to 26 members last week and will begin a CPR education grant later this week with $20,000 going to each NFL team for CPR education and AEDs for high school sports teams.