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Widow of only NFL player to die on the field felt ‘very emotional’ after Damar Hamlin collapse

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The widow of the only NFL player to die on the field in sports history became “very emotional” watching Damar Hamlin collapse on Monday, she said.

Chuck Hughes was a wide receiver for the Detroit Lions in October 1971 when he grabbed his chest and fell to the ground, suffering a fatal heart attack late in the team’s game against the Chicago Bears. His widow, Sharon, accompanied him to the back of the ambulance before he was pronounced dead.

Just over 51 years later, she felt it all come back when she watched Buffalo Bills safety Hamlin get up from a tackle, take a few steps and then collapse on the field in Monday’s game against the Bengals of Cincinnati.

“Can you imagine how his mother felt? Ms Hughes told NBC News. “It’s a horrible feeling, and, well, I felt so sorry for the whole family last night.”

Hamlin, 24, suffered cardiac arrest and remained in critical condition on Wednesday. Details were not released regarding the cause of the medical event, but doctors speculated it could be commotio cordis, a sudden cardiac emergency following a blow to the chest. The rare disease, when observed, usually occurs in young male athletes in action.

However, cardiac arrest can occur for many reasons and there is no public information regarding any underlying conditions the player might have had.

Mr Hughes was 28 when he suffered his heart attack in 1971. He had been hospitalized seven weeks earlier for what doctors told the family appeared to be an injury to his spleen, lungs or kidneys, and Tests after his death led doctors to believe he had suffered a first heart attack before the one that killed him, according to Yahoo Sports. An autopsy revealed an undiagnosed heart condition and found a blood clot in a clogged artery had become dislodged, possibly from a blow he took during the game, Yahoo reported.

The Lions player’s son, who is now 53, told NBC he hopes current NFL athletes undergo more advanced and extensive medical testing than what was available to his father.

“What happened to my dad in 1971 was stone age in terms of medicine compared to today,” he said. “Are these young men getting the medical care and screenings they should?

Like his mother, his thoughts turned to Hamlin’s family, saying “they have a support system here.”

“I would be more than happy to speak with them,” he said. “We certainly understand what they’re going through.”

Ms Hughes told NBC she believed genetics was a major factor in her husband’s death.

“You can’t blame football,” she said, “I never did.”

Now living in Texas, Ms Hughes said The Independent on Wednesday, she would no longer be giving interviews but added, “Thank you so much for remembering Chuck.”

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