When it comes to the game of life, Damar Hamlin is just grateful to play.
"Off the field, it's just kind of givin' me a perspective to appreciate life a little bit more and appreciate the small things, the things that are free in life—family, time, peace, happiness, any small things," Hamlin told E! News in an exclusive interview. "It's kind of made me more of a positive person to just have more of a positive outlook on life because life is precious and nothing's promised for us."
"On the field, that's another journey within itself," he continued. "Just getting back to doing what I love, which I'm super appreciative and thankful for."
Determined to give back, Hamlin teamed up with Abbott for its HeartMates program that benefits those affected by heart conditions. Though he knows he makes an even bigger impact every time he suits up.
"Just to be able to have that blessing and be able to stand here as a pillar in this community, especially for HeartMates, it means a lot," he added about getting back to the game. "I know so many patients will get so much encouragement and enthusiasm by seeing me do what I love still today."
Hamlin's return to football kicked off in August when he played in his first game since his cardiac arrest, a preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts. He competed in his first regular season game since the incident two months later when the Bills faced off against the Miami Dolphins.
"It's what I love to do," Hamlin said about the sport. "It's what I do, honestly. I tell myself all the time, 20 years into it, there's nothing that I do better. That's just a way to just keep myself confident. I've been doing this my entire life."
His comeback came about seven months after he went into cardiac arrest in the middle of the Bills' Jan. 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. He received immediate medical attention on the field before being transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for treatment.
Hamlin was sedated and listed in critical condition—with doctors noting at the time he required a breathing tube. But on Jan. 5, his medical team at the hospital confirmed that he'd started to awaken and that his neurological condition and function were still intact.
Hamlin was discharged from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center Jan. 9 and taken to the Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute, where he was released two days later.
And the athlete will never forget what it was like when he first learned of all the well-wishes sent his way.
"It was honestly unbelievable," he told E! News. "I woke up to unimaginable support, unimaginable love."
The incident catapulted Hamlin into the public eye in a whole different way. And while he told E! News he considers himself a private person when it comes to his family and personal life, he noted that he's happy to use his voice to help others.
"Naturally, with the business of the career that I chose, there's little privacy," Hamlin said. "But also, I think there's also a space in it where we work to get to this point. It came my way in a different fashion. But ultimately, this is a place I've always strived to be in. I've always wanted to be a leader in the community."
One way he hopes to achieve this is by being a positive role model for younger generations.
"I think we're in like a war right now, especially social media-wise of who's influencing us," he continued. "I think there's not many on the positive side. So, I'm grateful to be in this position, and I'm gonna be one of those who stands on that positive side to show people that there's a different way of doing things."
Hamlin is also aiming to make people with similar medical histories feel less alone by serving as HeartMates' ambassador, striving to create a community for others impacted by heart conditions and teach people the x's and o‘s surrounding heart health.
"I think it means everything for patients to be able to feel heard and feel wanted and to have this community too where they can relate to people in a space where you might not feel understood," he explained. "I can relate directly. It's not the most comfortable thing to discuss when you have heart problems and you're around a bunch of people who don't. You know they might not understand because you barely understand. We're not doctors or anything."
Hamlin added, "Just to be able to create this community and have this team alongside my team, it'll mean everything. Because I know how much my team, the Buffalo Bills, has meant to me, and then my support team—my family, everyone who's been there for me. So, to create this team right here is gonna be super special."