US tennis star Jessica Pegula says her sister, Kelly, saved their mum’s life after she went into cardiac arrest at her home last year.
In an article published in The Players’ Tribune, Pegula opened up about her family’s “tough” year which culminated in “some bizarre, messed-up, full circle moment” when Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch during an NFL game.
In June last year, reports emerged regarding Pegula’s mum, Kim — a co-owner of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the National Hockey League’s Buffalo Sabres — being hospitalised.
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Not much was known about her condition at the time but Pegula, in her recent article, wrote in detail about what happened and how her mum has been recovering ever since.
“My mum was asleep when my dad woke up to her going into cardiac arrest and she was unresponsive for quite a while,” Pegula said.
“My sister gave her CPR until the ambulance arrived. She saved her life. Even though she doesn’t like to take credit for this terrible situation, she absolutely saved her life, followed by the critical job performed by the paramedics who arrived and were able to restore a heartbeat.”
Pegula’s mum has been the co-owner of the Bills since 2014, when she purchased the franchise with her husband, Terry, for more than $1 billion.
The pair also own the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, making Kim the first woman to become president of both an NFL and NHL team.
Pegula says her mum loved her work and was very much the engine room of the sporting empire, but she worries that “she won’t be able to be that person anymore.”
“She is dealing with significant expressive aphasia and significant memory issues,” Pegula said. Aphasia is a language disorder caused by damage in a specific area of the brain, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
“She can read, write, and understand pretty well, but she has trouble finding the words to respond. It is hard to deal with and it takes a lot of patience to communicate with her, but I thank God every day that we can still communicate with her at all.
“The doctors continue to be blown away by her recovery, considering where she started, and her determination is the driving force of that.”
She says the family practically lived at the hospital during the first two weeks of the recovery process, with her father reluctant to go home without his wife.
The pressure of caring for the family and running a successful business empire took its toll on everyone, Pegula says.
“When they say one day in the hospital equals a week to recover, that is no joke. We were all mentally and physically exhausted,” she added.
While focusing on her mum’s recovery, Pegula questioned whether she’d be able to keep playing tennis at a high level.
But, driven by her mum’s attitude to life, she decided to play at Wimbledon just weeks after her mum’s cardiac arrest, making it to the third round.
She then reached the quarter finals of the US Open before ending the year as the women’s singles world No.3.
“I guess one thing I learned from the past year is it can be a great year, and a bad year, both can be true,” she said.
With her um recovering at home, Pegula shifted her focus to tennis and she flew to compete at the Australian Open at the start of the year.
However, before the grand slam started, she received the news that Bills player Hamlin had suffered a cardiac arrest and was fighting for his life in hospital.
Pegula, who was minutes away from playing in a mixed doubles event in Sydney, says her “stomach sunk” when she heard what had happened.
“I usually don’t get too much anxiety, but the thought of what Damar and his family were about to go through hurt my heart,” she said, adding she was close to having a panic attack.
“I knew how important time was. I just kept thinking time, time, time, time. I hope they got him back and quick enough.
“The medical staff and trainers who assisted that night really saved his life and were tremendous in his recovery. I ended up going on for mixed doubles and we won.”
Hamlin, 24, survived and, like Kim, is facing a lengthy recovery process.
Pegula says that his incredible recovery had inspired her performances at the Australian Open where she reached the quarter finals.
She wore Hamlin’s number three on her shorts during the tournament but says it was also in honour of her mum.
“It has been a tough year, but at the same time, I feel lucky and blessed,” she said.
“I am thankful she is still with us when other families may not have been so lucky. That she even had a chance at recovery when the first week in the hospital seemed so dim.
“Thankful for the doctors that aided in her recovery. Thankful that she is now home, that she gets to watch the Bills, Sabres and my tennis matches.
“She never watched my matches before because she got too nervous. Now, she watches all of them.”
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