Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin spoke publicly on Saturday for the first time since suffering cardiac arrest during a game in early January.
Hamlin posted a near-six-minute video on Instagram, thanking those who saved his life and helped him "stay encouraged to get through the toughest moments and the toughest times."
"Now that my brothers have closed out a strong winning season as I continued to make so much progress recovering, I think it's finally a good time to share a few things," said Hamlin, who was seated at the Bills' facility in the video. "I think 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, it's just been a lot to process. But I can't tell you how appreciative I am of all the love, all the support and everything that's just been coming in my way."
The 24-year-old Hamlin collided with Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins while making a tackle on Monday Night Football on Jan. 2. Hamlin got back to his feet momentarily before collapsing. Medical personnel administered CPR on the field for nearly 10 minutes before Hamlin was transported by ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
"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 kids and communities all across the world who need it the most. That's always been my dream, that's always been what I've stood for and what I'll continue to stand for."
Hamlin was initially listed in critical condition before making what doctors called "remarkable improvement." He was released from the UC Medical Center one week after his collapse, and he then spent a couple of days at the Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute. He's since continued his recovery at home and with the Bills.
Hamlin was in attendance for Buffalo's divisional round loss to the Bengals on Sunday. Hamlin, who was seated in a box, received a rousing ovation from Bills fans when he was shown on the video board.
In the video posted Saturday, he thanked those who helped him "most directly to get back to this moment to where I'm able to speak to you."
He began by naming members of the Bills' medical staff, who performed CPR on the field. He then mentioned the doctors and first responders at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center "who acted swiftly and skillfully to save my life." He also thanked the medical personnel and healthcare providers at Buffalo General Hospital. In addition to mentioning his family, friends and the Bills organization and fans, Hamlin praised the city of Cincinnati, the Bengals and the NFL for their support.
"Just for putting team allegiance aside to root for one kid's life," Hamlin said. "Just the humanity of a player that's wearing Buffalo blue. You put humanity above team loyalty, you showed the world unity over division. I'm not surprised by it, but I'm deeply grateful and I will be forever thankful and indebted to that."
Hamlin also showed appreciation for the children who sent him letters and gifts during his recovery, saying "You made my day, every day."
During Hamlin's recovery, his hometown toy drive run by his foundation far exceeded its initial goal of $2,500 by raising nearly $10 million in donations.
"I don't even have the words to express the gratitude for the amount of support that was given into that," Hamlin said. "That was something that we started even way before I made it into the NFL. Something that was started small just to be able to affect my small community back at home at McKees Rocks. I just wanted to be able to play my role and do my part in my community as I ventured off into chasing my dreams of making the NFL. And you guys have just took that and blown it away and I'm so excited for the things that I have planned in the future for these kids all across the country now.
"While I'm so thankful to everybody, I know that it isn't enough just to be thankful," Hamlin said in closing. "This is just the beginning of the impact that I wanted to have on the world and with God's guidance I will continue to do wonderful ad great things. I couldn't do this without any of the support and the love and I can’t wait to continue to take you all on this journey with me."