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Moore: Damar Hamlin’s inspiration can spread beyond this season – The Arizona Republic

The Buffalo Bills have been eliminated, meaning we’re probably going to see a lot less of Damar Hamlin from here on out.

Hamlin, the Bills safety who nearly died on the field a few weeks ago, has had one inspiring moment after another as the nation has watched and prayed for his recovery. His latest came Sunday with a video of him watching the Buffalo-Cincinnati game from a luxury box at Highmark Stadium, making a heart symbol with his hands.

For as long as the Bills were winning, we were going to get these instances. More importantly, donations were going to keep pouring into Hamlin’s charity, the Chasing M’s Foundation, which had been a modest effort to raise money for toy drives and summer camps for kids. It’s up to nearly $9 million, and it made me think of my buddy C.J.

“Right now, I’m at the top of the list,” Craig Erquhart said Sunday by phone from a hospital bed at UCLA Health where he’s awaiting a life-saving transplant. “Been here for about six months, just waiting on a hart to come through that’s my size and blood type.”

‘It’s a pretty humbling thing’

Erquhart is one of the finest athletes to ever come through Southfield, Michigan, the Detroit suburb where we went to high school. He was a 6-foot-6 scorer with a jump shot so clean I couldn’t even make him miss with my legendary trash talk.

It might have gone something like this in Mike Chappell’s backyard 25 years ago:

Me: “C.J. can’t shoot, because he can’t see a ‘J.’”


Craig: “See that, lil’ fella.”

Except it never would have gone like that because I don’t remember C.J. ever saying anything but encouraging things and smiling. (I do remember him busting my tail playing basketball in Mike’s backyard, though. That part happened.) Craig was the kind of guy that even teachers liked.

He’s dying, but because he’s not a megastar athlete who collapsed while the world looked on in helpless terror, he’s facing an interminable wait, a daunting recovery and piles of debt.

“It’s a pretty humbling thing,” the 45-year-old Erquhart said. “To be in the hospital this long, it really takes a toll on you, mentally and especially financially. To answer your question, ‘Where am I at in my journey?’ I don’t know. I guess you could say I’m in limbo. (My transplant) could happen today; it could happen in six more months. I have no idea.”

‘It’s obvious how much his teammates love him’

To be clear, Hamlin doesn’t appear to need a transplant.  The speculation has been that he suffered commotio cordis, a sudden heart failure that comes with impact to the chest.

The Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut says it’s most common among youth athletes in sports like baseball, hockey and lacrosse when players are struck by a ball or puck.

Stringer died about 20 years ago of complications from heat stroke suffered during a Minnesota Vikings practice, but the institute that bears his name shows how widespread benefit can come from a disaster. The organization is known for research into hydration and heat, but it’s expanded into advocacy, education and outreach.

I wonder whether the people advising Hamlin have been thinking about spreading their outreach, maybe by raising awareness for heart health, up to and including organ donations? Not that kids don’t need toys and backpacks and things to do in the summer, but it seems to me that Hamlin’s story is about heart, figuratively and literally.

“It’s very obvious how much his teammates love him,” Katherine Fitzgerald said. These days, she reports on the Bills for the Buffalo News after having covered the Cardinals here at The Arizona Republic.

Nine days after he collapsed in cardiac arrest on the field, Damar Hamlin has been released from the hospital.

“It’s a blessing,” Dion Dawkins said. “That just shows the type of kid that he is, that he’s fought & he’s continuing to win.”


— katherine fitzgerald (@kfitz134) January 12, 2023

She said Hamlin’s impact has been “super powerful.”

“The big picture is that (his teammates) feel very lucky to have him around,” she said.

‘The need is really high’

If Hamlin and others who know and love him spread their message to include heart problems of all kinds, especially around the Super Bowl, which takes place at State Farm Stadium in Glendale in a few weeks, it would be timely. February is American Heart Month.

When it comes to transplants, there aren’t enough organs available for people who can’t live without them.

“The need is really high,” said Nico Santos, spokesman for Donor Network of Arizona, the state’s federally designated organ procurement organization, a vital link in a larger organ donation chain.

“There are about 106,000 people at a nationwide level,” Santos said, “who are in need of organ, eye and tissue transplants.”

That includes C.J., who found out he had a rare condition called cardio myopathy and received a heart transplant in 2014.

It looked like he had recovered. He was working, making music and playing basketball in men’s leagues around Southern California where he settled after leaving Michigan.

“Nobody could tell,” he said. “Nobody even knew I had a heart transplant.”

Then he felt a pain in his chest.

“I thought it was a pinched nerve,” he said.

Turns out, he needs a second transplant to save his life.

His wife, Keesha Aldridge-Erquhart, has set up a GoFundMe page, and the Los Angeles Lakers made him a “Laker for a Day,” giving him a jersey and special access to the team facility.

But mostly, he just waits and watches sports on TV from his hospital bed. He was looking on when Hamlin first went down.

“I was watching in real time,” he said. “As soon as I saw it, it took me back about Hank Gathers,” the college basketball star who died after collapsing in a game nearly 35 years ago.

“The way (Hamlin) fell let me know, ‘Aw, shoot, something’s not right.’ I immediately started praying for him … it just so happened that one of my doctors was coming in. We started talking, and he brought up commotio cordis.”

It’s not easy to sit on the donor list, stuck in a hospital with medical staff coming in and out all hours of the day.

“Depending on your blood type and your body size,” Erquhart said, “you could wait for a very long time. … You really shouldn’t have to worry about your finances when you’re dealing with your health, but I’m going to have to start all over again.”

Here’s hoping that Hamlin’s story helps make things better for people dealing with heart problems of all sorts, including my buddy C.J.

But, unfortunately, that might not happen.  

The Buffalo Bills have been eliminated, meaning we’re probably going to see a lot less of Damar Hamlin from here on out.

Greg Moore is an award-winning sports columnist and editorial board member. Reach him at and on Twitter @SayingMoore.

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