BUFFALO, N.Y. -- After the Pegula family kept the health information of Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres co-owner Kim Pegula private for over eight months, Jessica Pegula shared Tuesday that her mother suffered cardiac arrest in June 2022 and remains in recovery.
Kim Pegula continues to improve daily but is "dealing with significant expressive aphasia and significant memory issues," and while she continues to work hard in her recovery, "where she ends up is still unknown," Jessica Pegula wrote in an essay for The Players' Tribune that was published Tuesday. She shared that her mother will most likely not be able to return to her roles in the way she had been.
"She can read, write, and understand pretty well, but she has trouble finding the words to respond," Jessica Pegula, the No. 4 tennis player in the world, wrote. "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."
Kim Pegula, 53, is president and CEO of Pegula Sports and Entertainment, and president and co-owner of the Bills and Sabres. She is the first woman to be named president of both an NFL and NHL team. The Pegulas have five children, including Jessica, Kelly, Matthew, Michael and Laura.
Kim Pegula is an advocate for increasing diversity in both the NFL and NHL and sat on the NFL workplace diversity committee. Pegula has served on the NFL's Super Bowl and major events advisory committee, business ventures committee and NFL Foundation committee, in addition to co-chairing the NHL's executive inclusion council.
"She was the woman behind my dad's success and my dad would happily admit that. 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. She lived it and loved it, and it was felt by everyone she met. Now we come to the realization that all of that is most likely gone. That she won't be able to be that person anymore."
Jessica Pegula, 28, shared that her mother was asleep when her dad, Bills and Sabres co-owner Terry Pegula, awoke to his wife going into cardiac arrest and that she was unresponsive for a while.
Kelly Pegula gave her mother CPR until an ambulance could arrive. Kelly Pegula had only taken a CPR class about three months prior as part of a requirement for a job she wanted.
"I remember [Kelly Pegula] telling us what she was doing in our family group chat, and my mom even responded, 'Nice Kells! Now if we have a heart attack you can revive us,'" Jessica Pegula wrote.
She wrote that she got the call from her sister about the situation around midnight on June 7, her mother's birthday.
The family was at the hospital for about two weeks, staying with her. After about a week into that, Kim Pegula was moved out of the ICU and into an inpatient care facility, and she was aware and able to talk some.
"After a long two weeks, she was in a good set-up to start her recovery which we knew would take a very, very long time," Jessica Pegula wrote. "Three of my best friends are doctors and after the situation calmed down, they told me that it was a miracle she was even on her way to recovery, as did every other doctor who worked with her."
Bills safety Damar Hamlin also suffered cardiac arrest during the first quarter of the team's regular-season game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2 and is also continuing to improve on his own road to recovery. He recently spoke in a video thanking everyone for the support. During the 2023 Australian Open, Jessica Pegula, then ranked No. 3, wore the No. 3 patch for both Hamlin and her mom, she wrote.
Jessica Pegula shared that her mom, who "loved to work," always wanted her to be involved in the running of the Bills and Sabres and to eventually take over for her after her tennis career was done. In January, the Sabres hired John Roth as chief operating officer to take over day-to-day business operations.
For the private family, it was a difficult year going through something like this in a public way, but she thanked the Buffalo community for their patience, for everyone continuing to respect the family's privacy and for all the support.
"It has been a tough year but at the same time I feel lucky and blessed. I am thankful she is still with us when other families may not have been so lucky," she wrote. "That she even had a chance at recovery when the first week in the hospital seemed so dim. Thankful for the doctors that aided in her recovery. Thankful that she is now home, that she gets to watch the Bills, Sabres, and my tennis matches. She never watched my matches before because she got too nervous. Now she watches all of them."