NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Monday night’s football game is weighing heavy on countless hearts, as people across the nation come together to pray for Buffalo Bill’s Damar Hamlin.
Most recent reports say he is now in critical condition after collapsing on the field.
For one North Little Rock family, the scene brought back hard memories after losing their loved one under circumstances that feel all too similar.
The name Samuel Urton is a familiar one for North Little Rock natives. For Rachel Pledger, this was her brother.
“He was funny, a great storyteller,” she said. “He would captivate you when he walked into a room.”
After nearly two decades, Urton’s story is still at the forefront of the minds of many in the community.
In 2003, Urton collapsed and went into cardiac arrest during basketball practice at school in North Little Rock. He was taken to the hospital where he died that same day. Urton was just 15 years old at the time.
Pledger said their family later learned he might have had a virus or infection beforehand that gave him no symptoms but could have been connected to a heart condition known as Myocarditis.
“No one signs up for a sport that they love thinking, “This might be my last down or my last rebound,’” Pledger said.
Pledger said she had the game on in her home Monday night as the tragedy on the field all played out. After seeing posts on Facebook, she looked up and discovered what all was happening… seeing Bills and Bengals players crowding Hamlin who was laying on the field.
Reports say Hamlin collapsed after getting up from a tackle and went into cardiac arrest. His heartbeat was eventually restored after CPR and he was rushed to the hospital.
“Immediately it took you back to 19 years ago,” Pledger said.
Despite the years of grief, Urton’s family has dealt with, they have peace over a few things.
“What gives our family peace is we know he loves the Lord and he’s in heaven with Jesus and we will see him again,” she said.
Pledger also recalled the community of people who came together following the news of her brother the day he died. She said as her family came out of a room in the hospital, it felt like hundreds of people were there in support. What she saw on the field and across social media Monday following Hamlin’s collapse looked like a similar scenario.
“Just all over the country, it didn’t matter what race you were, what political party, what NFL team you support, there were Bengals fans just praying over him,” she said.
Pledger said it is hard to think about how different life would be today with her brother here to experience life and do simple things like play basketball with her son.
“Grief is a funny thing… some days you’re fine, some days you miss the people you’ve lost,” Pledger said. “I would’ve loved for my kids to have met him.”
She added that her family tries to focus on the impact he had on generations to come.
“After my brother and a few others, that’s when legislation and politicians got involved,” she said.
In 2007, a bill passed in Arkansas known as The Arkansas Automatic External Defibrillator Act of 2007. It requires AEDs to be placed in all public and private schools and institutions of higher learning, also ensuring responders are properly trained on how to use defibrillators.
“It makes me and our family happy to know that defibrillators around the state and country are saving people’s lives,” Pledger said. “From 19 years ago to now, we have seen an overwhelming progression of defibrillators in schools, and people are getting trained properly on how to use them.”
While Pledger is unsure if a defibrillator would have saved her brother back in the day or not, she knows having them in schools readily available now is a lifesaving initiative that is part of her brother’s legacy.