Mother of Waukesha teen who died from cardiac arrest shares message with Damar Hamlin's family

NOW: Mother of Waukesha teen who died from cardiac arrest shares message with Damar Hamlin’s family

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Millions were shocked to see Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin fall to the turf Monday night after suffering a cardiac episode. For Patty Lermer, the scene hit too close to home.

"The first thing that went through my mind was just memories of what was happening to Kai in the ICU," Lermer said. "We were definitely blindsided."

In 2019, Lermer's 16-year-old son, Kai, was a student at Waukesha North High School. While playing basketball with friends at a Waukesha park, Kai collapsed and later died, suffering a cardiac arrest caused by an undiagnosed heart condition.

"Kai was very healthy," Lermer said. "We don't want this tragedy ever happening to another family."

Following Kai's death, Mike and Patty Lermer founded the Kai Lermer Memorial Fund, helping provide AEDs for public parks and scholarships for students. Just this past summer, the organization helped provide roughly 500 area high school students with EKG testing.

The two parents were also influential in helping get the Kai 11 bill passed in March 2022, requiring the WIAA to inform student athletes and their parents about the risks of cardiac arrest.

"When we had the 500 students that were tested, we were so elated because we knew that hey, if we're saving lives, that's what this is all about," Lermer said. "We definitely, highly recommend that all student athletes get EKG testing before a sport."

Hamlin, a 24-year-old defensive player for the Bills, suffered a cardiac arrest after making a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals. The team said Tuesday he remains sedated in the hospital receiving treatment.

"Witnessing something traumatic like this can be really stirring for some people," said Dr. Shanda Wells, a clinical psychologist with UW Health. "The majority of folks, kids included, deal with it fine."

Dr. Wells says it's still a good idea for parents to check in with their kids who watched the scary situation unfold on television.

"Some kids will be like, 'I'm fine,' and some kids won't be. Some kids might say they're fine but they're not and they might just not know it in that moment," Dr. Wells explained. "Parents just have to be willing to kind of be open to hearing whatever a child has to say and remaining curious."

She says as parents check with their kids, they should also check in with themselves, adding that feeling concerned about their own children playing a sport due to risk of injury is natural.

"Sports are like any other activity, they have risks and benefits," Dr. Wells said. "Anytime anything jarring happens, it's not a good idea to make rash decisions. It's always best to give yourself a little bit of time to think about things, talk it through with loved ones, and have an opportunity to really process it. Often, our emotional brain reacts first and there's a good reason for that, and then our rational brain comes in later and we have to be able to integrate both of those to come up with a good decision."

As Damar Hamlin's family continues to ask the country for prayers, they're receiving them from a mother who hopes no other mother will have to experience what she did.

"Want to extend my prayers to the Hamlin family, as well as Damar and his football team," Lermer said. "I know what they're going through and how hard it is."

The Kai Lermer Memorial Fund plans to host another EKG testing day in 2023. Follow the organizations Facebook page for updates, here.

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