Jessica Pegula has played some of her best tennis while coping with terrifying family trauma.
In a poignant first-person piece for The Players’ Tribune titled I Want to Talk to You About My Mom, Pegula details her mother going into cardiac arrest last summer and her continued recovery from a near-death experience.
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World No. 4 Pegula shares the story of her sister saving the life of their mother, Kim Pegula, who went into cardiac arrest last June while asleep at home.
Kelly Pegula, Jessica Pegula’s sister, performed CPR on Kim Pegula until the ambulance arrived, saving her mother’s life.
The 28-year-old Buffalo native decided to publicly share her family’s story after seeing Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffer cardiac arrest on a nationally-televised NFL game.
Terry Pegula and Kim Pegula, Jessica’s parents, are the owners of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Kim Pegula served as president of both the Bills and Sabres.
During the Australian Open, the then third-ranked American wore a No. 3 patch on her shirt to honor both Hamlin and her mother.
While Kim Pegula was in intensive care the entire family took turns staying by her bedside around the clock.
“The most frustrating thing about these types of injuries is that the outcome is unknown. Experts base it on how long the brain was without oxygen, and how one responds to commands at the earliest stages, but it is very difficult,” Jessica Pegula writes for The Players’ Tribune. “It was a waiting game. We lived in that hospital for basically two weeks. We took shifts, we brought each other food, we knew all the nurses and doctors, we even knew their schedules.
“We had to force my dad to go home and sleep, but most of the time he didn’t. He would go sit in his car to get away or come to my house. He didn’t want to go back to their house unless my mom was back with him. When they say one day in the hospital equals a week to recover, that is no joke.”
After about a week, Kim Pegula was moved out of the intensive care unit. These days, Jessica Pegula says her mom is continuing to work hard in rehab though it’s uncertain where she will eventually wind-up in her recovery.
“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 writes. “She is dealing with significant expressive aphasia and significant memory issues.
“She can read, write, and understand pretty well, but she has trouble finding the words to respond. It is hard to deal with and it takes a lot of patience to communicate with her, but I thank God every day that we can still communicate with her at all. The doctors continue to be blown away by her recovery, considering where she started, and her determination is the driving force of that.”
The fourth-ranked Pegula has penned an honest and powerful piece on the pain and uncertainty that comes from life’s shattering moments and the strength and inspiration drawn from her family’s unity and her mother’s spirit in recovery.
Jessica Pegula said the positive public support she received from wearing No. 3 down under “just reminded me of why I love sports.”
“To see the attention it garnered in Australia, across the world, in a different country, just reminded me why I love sports and the beauty of coming together,” Jessica Pegula writes for The Players Tribune. “Some of my close friends who know every detail of what has happened tell me, “I don’t know how you have made it through the year, let alone finished No. 3 in the world.”
“I just say I have no freaking clue. I guess one thing I learned from the past year is it can be a great year, and a bad year, both can be true. My mom is working hard in her recovery, she is improving, but where she ends up is still unknown. Luckily, we have some amazing people around us who have been crucial in helping her and without them I am not sure where our family would be…
“I have been writing this throughout the Australian Open as a sort of therapy whenever I feel some anxiety or just the need to vent. I didn’t know what my result would be but before I left, my mom told me to “take it seriously,” which my family and I laughed about because we weren’t quite sure what she meant. But like she always told us, “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.”
Photo credit: Jessica Pegula
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