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'I am not a hero, I was ready' : Kellington reflects on life changing moment

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Denny Kellington

Denny Kellington returned to Oklahoma State University to speak at the spring commencement ceremonies.

In an exclusive interview with Inside OSU’s Meghan Robinson, Buffalo Bills assistant athletic trainer and Oklahoma State University alumnus Denny Kellington spoke about administering life-saving CPR to Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin during an NFL game and how his time at OSU prepared him for his career. 

In high school, Kellington played football at Midwest City High School and became interested in athletic training. After seeing what athletic training was, Kellington knew he was interested and applied to OSU first. 

"I got accepted to college in January, I interviewed in March and accepted in April as an athletic training student," Kellington said. "And then we started that summer."

During this time, the late '90s and early 2000s, to become an athletic trainer students had to work as an intern first, Kellington said. Kellington took classes as well 1,500 hours with his internship his first year.

"That's what athletic training is, it's time on task," Kellington said. "So then the next three and a half years was just getting as much experience with different sports, different injuries, different athletes, different coaching styles. All those are those things that help you become a better athletic trainer, and I'm not certified yet. I'm just learning."

Kellington said there are a lot of similarities between the NFL and the college football and sports. The players get younger, he gets older, but age doesn't matter if you know how to relate to people and they know you care about them, Kellington said.

Trust doesn't happen immediately, but he treats everyone equally, respectfully and fairly. 

"When we're working with people, that is vital for their livelihood to trust you, knowing that you're doing everything you can to help them become better athletes or recover from an injury to get back to what they love," Kellington said.

On Jan. 2, during Monday Night Football, Kellington and the rest of the Buffalo Bills athletic training staff were spotlighted when Hamlin collapsed from cardiac arrest. Kellington and his staff immediately administered care and were successful in implementing their emergency action plan. 

For game days, the host team provides a copy of the emergency action plan early in the week. Kellington and Nate Breske, the Buffalo Bills head athletic trainer, receive it first, share with the staff and then review it. The head athletic trainer and head team physician meet for a 60-minute meeting. About 30 staff members meet in a secluded area of the stadium to go over everyone's roles and responsibilities as well as ensure everyone can identify the code leader. 

"So that's one of the most important aspects of in player health and safety is having a good solid emergency action plan set in place, and every NFL stadium has that," Kellington said.

Kellington believes having an athletic trainer and an elite health care provider at schools that offer sports is vital because they are the first person there to help the child in the event of a medical situation. 

"Damar's parent's were extremely helpful to all of us, just giving us permission that in their heart of hearts, they knew he was going to be fine," Kellington said. "And as a parent myself, I hope I'm as as strong as they are, if anything was ever to happen to my kids."

Kellington said having an automated external defibrillator (AED) accessible at all levels of sports is important. The AEDs are not very expensive and there are many resources to help schools pay for them, Kellington said. However, many schools may lock them up after school hours makes them inaccessible at a time when many events happen. 

Kellington's quick actions on Jan. 2 led to him being the commencement speaker at OSU's graduation ceremony on May 13. 

"I hope that they are ready for the next chapter of their life, understanding that their experiences here at Oklahoma State has prepared them for the future and that they are ready," Kellington said as a message to the class of 2023.