Photos by Sonja Reis
By Elizabeth Perry
Around the same time Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin was being discharged from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center Jan. 9, McKees Rocks community members and family were gathering in his hometown for a prayer vigil.
The announcement that the 24-year-old athlete was walking out of the hospital after suffering cardiac arrest on field during a Monday Night Football game Jan. 2 turned the service into one of celebration of recovery.
Hamlin’s uncle, Dorrian Glenn, emphasized the power of prayer in his nephew’s healing.
“We can accomplish a lot more when we come together in love than we can with hate,” Glenn said.
McKees Rocks Mayor David Flick said the borough was planning on naming Jan. 9 a holiday in honor of Hamlin.
“It’s a very rare occasion when you can get together and be thankful your prayers were answered,” Flick said.
Dr. Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, one of the organizers of the Jan. 9 prayer service, used the moment to urge everyone in attendance to be “CPR ambassadors.” She stressed that not only did the technique save Hamlin’s life, but Pittsburgh was the birthplace of both CPR and EMS.
The first EMS service was started in the Hill District by 25 black men, Owusu-Ansah said.
Hamlin’s heartbeat was restored on the field using CPR and was in a medically-induced coma until Jan. 5.
At that point he reportedly woke up and asked if they had won the game.
“Three is a powerful number!” Owusu-Ansah said, drawing a parallel between Hamlin’s jersey number and the letters in CPR.
Second Baptist Church’s Rev. Michael Murray also worked Hamlin’s number on the field into his speech at the vigil stating, “Three is a positive number.”
Hamlin who transferred back to New York to continue his recovery at Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute is now discharged and continuing recovery on his own.
Before Hamlin joined the NFL, he played football at the University of Pittsburgh and before that for Central Catholic.
Brian Cook, the all-boys Catholic high school’s communications director, spoke of Hamlin’s “warm spirit and thankfulness to others.”
“He excelled in everything he did, both on the field and off,” Cook said.
As a child, the Pitt graduate was a member of the Sto-Rox Little Vikings youth football team. His younger brother Damir, 7, currently plays with the Little Vikings, and his father, Mario, still coaches for the organization.
Family friend Cameron Culliver, president of the Little Vikings program and the Sto-Rox School Board, said Damar is constantly coming back to the community to help out where he can.
"Damar is what a lot of kids from McKees Rocks aspire to be, Damar embodies what they want to be growing up, as a man in general," said Culliver.
Though he may not have graduated from Sto-Rox Junior/Senior High School, Culliver said, he is a true representative of what it means to be from Sto-Rox.
"He never forgets where he came from.
We're all praying for him. He has a whole community behind him," Culliver said.
Damar’s mother, Nina Hamlin, runs Kelly & Nina’s Daycare Center in Stowe Township, which was also the site of a toy drive put on by Damar’s charity, Chasing M’s Foundation.
That 2020 toy drive, which had a goal of $2,500 has garnered more than $8.9 million dollars in donations as of Jan. 13.
“On behalf of our family, we want to express our sincere gratitude for the love and support shown to Damar during this challenging time.
We are deeply moved by the prayers, kind words and donations from fans around the country,” Damar’s immediate family said via statement.