Jessica Pegula Opens Up About Her Mother’s Cardiac Arrest
Jessica Pegula, the professional tennis player, has revealed details for the first time about the health of her mother, Kim Pegula, a co-owner and president of the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Sabres, describing how she went into cardiac arrest last year and is still struggling to recover.
In an essay published in The Players’ Tribune on Tuesday, Jessica Pegula said she was writing about it now because she wanted to be more open after Damar Hamlin, the Bills defensive back, went into cardiac arrest during a game on Jan. 2. He was discharged from the hospital on Jan. 11.
In her essay, titled “I Want to Talk to You About My Mom,” Pegula, 28, said that when she was at the Australian Open last month, she texted her husband about Mr. Hamlin’s ordeal. “The situation with my mom,” she wrote in the essay, “was weighing on me.”
“When can we start talking about it?” she wrote. “When can I tell her story, my story, my family’s story? Everyone just keeps asking me. I really need to get it off my chest.”
Kim Pegula, 53, and her husband, Terry, bought the Bills from the estate of the team’s founder, Ralph Wilson, in 2014. The couple paid $1.4 billion, then a record for an N.F.L. franchise.
Terry Pegula, a billionaire businessman, made his fortune primarily in natural gas and in real-estate development. The Pegulas bought the N.H.L.’s Buffalo Sabres in 2011, as Jessica was turning 17.
In 2022, the Pegulas acknowledged publicly that Kim had been facing significant health issues since the summer, without providing details.
That changed with Jessica Pegula’s essay in The Tribune.
“This is a story about my mother, my family and the past year,” she wrote.
Damar Hamlin’s Collapse
The Buffalo Bills safety went into cardiac arrest during an N.F.L. game in Cincinnati on Jan. 2. He was released from the hospital on Jan. 11.
- Injury and Reaction: The life-threatening injury to Damar Hamlin, which was televised on “Monday Night Football,” resonated around the league and the world of sports.
- His Recovery: Hamlin, who returned home nine days after his collapse and spoke publicly for the first time on Jan. 28, appears to be on a good path for neurological recovery.
- Beating the Odds: Hamlin should not have survived, if statistics on cardiac arrests are any guide. Meet the doctors, nurses and medical professionals at a Cincinnati hospital who saved his life.
- A Precarious Position: Hamlin’s injury has drawn attention to young N.F.L. players who have been hurt early in their careers and now struggle to get help.
It started in June, when Jessica Pegula flew back to Florida after playing in the French Open. Her sister Kelly called her at about midnight, saying their mother was headed to a hospital in an ambulance after going into cardiac arrest. Her sister had given her CPR until the ambulance arrived and medics took over.
“She saved her life,” Jessica Pegula wrote.
Then came what she described as a “waiting game,” with months of uncertainty over the long-term impact on their mother’s health. After about a week, she was moved out of intensive care.
“She was aware, talking a little, but a long way from her normal self,” Jessica Pegula wrote.
Jessica Pegula, who is ranked fourth in the world, reluctantly went off to compete at Wimbledon. She had what she said were a “few good wins” amid the stress of her mother’s recovery, while fielding rumors that her mother had died and answering questions about her health.
“Today, my mom is still in recovery, and although it is the same answer every time someone asks me, it is true, she is improving every day,” Jessica Pegula wrote.
“She is dealing with significant expressive aphasia and significant memory issues,” she added, referring to a condition in which people struggle to speak in complete sentences or find the words they are looking for. “She can read, write and understand pretty well, but she has trouble finding the words to respond.”
Jessica Pegula said her mother was behind her father’s success.
“She jumped into this journey with him and learned many lessons along the way, breaking a lot of barriers,” Jessica Pegula wrote. “She was the shift in culture, positivity and the heartbeat of many of the employees. She gave everyone so much of her time and effort.”
“Now we come to the realization that all of that is most likely gone,” she wrote. “That she won’t be able to be that person anymore.”
At the Australian Open last month, Jessica Pegula wore a patch with Hamlin’s jersey number, 3. “Ironically, yes, I was ranked No. 3 in the world,” she wrote. “However, it didn’t feel like it was just for him, it felt like it was for my mom as well.”
Jessica Pegula said that when she heard what had happened to Hamlin, it was a “bizarre, messed-up, full-circle moment,” considering what her mother had also endured.
“Again, 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 wrote.
Jessica Pegula said that her family had always been private but her mother’s health scare had weighed heavily, creating a “massive void” in her family and in the Bills and Sabres organizations and a “harsh reality” for everyone else involved, including employees and fans.
“I wanted to tell them all that you have no right knowing what happened, but at the same time people wanted to know because they were scared,” she wrote. “Their leader, boss, friend, co-worker, all suddenly didn’t answer her phone, or emails, and all her meetings were canceled.”
Kim Pegula is now home, her daughter wrote. She gets to watch the Bills, the Sabres and Jessica’s tennis matches. Jessica Pegula said her mother was improving but her prognosis was uncertain.
“Thank you to the Buffalo community for your patience,” she wrote. “I know you have wanted answers and it took us a while to get there but it finally felt like it was time.”