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Damar Hamlin funds 10 scholarships in the names of 'heroes' who saved his life

The Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin took 10 Cincinnati medical workers out for dinner — and told them he's setting up scholarships in their names. He's seen here before the Bills' game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Zach Bolinger
The Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin took 10 Cincinnati medical workers out for dinner — and told them he's setting up scholarships in their names. He's seen here before the Bills' game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin used his team's road trip to Cincinnati over the weekend as a way to say thank you once again to 10 medical staffers who worked to save his life last January.

"Last night I had dinner with my heroes," Hamlin said on X, formerly Twitter.

The NFL player hosted the medical workers for dinner at Jeff Ruby's Steakhouse in Cincinnati, but he also had more in store.

"I surprised them with a scholarship named after each of them that will support youth in Cincy to chase their dreams," Hamlin said on Sunday.

"Wouldn't be here if it wasn't for them!" he added.

Scholarships are the latest payback from Hamlin

Hamlin, 25, required emergency care on Jan. 2, when he collapsed on the field from a cardiac arrest during a game at the Bengals' Paycor Stadium. The 10 men and women helped Hamlin on the field, in the operating room, and in his recovery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

In their honor, Hamlin and his Chasing M's foundation will award $1,000 scholarships to 10 under-served young people in the Cincinnati area, aiming to help youths who aspire to attend private high schools or local trade schools and universities. The program is set to run through the next three years.

Hamlin himself benefited from a scholarship in Pennsylvania that opened a path for him to attend a private school in Pittsburgh and use his football talents to launch successful careers in college and the NFL.

"Damar continues to surprise and inspire us," UC Health said in response to the scholarship announcement. "We were honored to spend last night with him!"

Hamlin made an emotional return to Cincinnati

Sunday's game was the Bills' first NFL game at Cincinnati since Hamlin's ordeal forced officials to halt the game after his collapse. When he ran onto the field for warmups, he greeted the Bengals' Tee Higgins and other players.

On Jan. 2, Hamlin was in the process of tackling Higgins when he took a hard hit to his chest. When Hamlin attempted to walk, he crumpled to the turf. Emergency workers were able to restore his heartbeat on the field.

After Sunday night's game, Hamlin returned to the field alone, crouching near the Bengals' logo at midfield.

"Tonight was everything for me," he said, "y'all don't know the half of it. Trust me."

Hamlin has appeared in just one game so far this season, but he has stayed busy: His foundation went on a CPR Tour with the American Heart Association this summer, visiting Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati to bring free CPR training to hundreds of people and distribute automated external defibrillators, or AEDs, to youth sports groups.

Death from sudden cardiac arrest is far less common among young athletes than it is for the general public, but it is the leading cause of death for the group, according to the Mayo Clinic. Causes can range from genetic conditions to commotio cordis — blunt impact to the chest that results in cardiac arrest.

Hamlin's scary collapse touched people far beyond the NFL's core fans, and millions of people have cheered his recovery. It also stoked interest in his charity work — even in college, Hamlin had set up a GoFundMe campaign to collect money for a toy drive for kids in his home community outside of Pittsburgh.

More than $9 million in donations to the fund have come in, from more than 22,000 sources.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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