Former National Football League running back Peyton Hillis is recovering at a hospital’s intensive care unit after jumping into Florida waters to save his children from drowning, according to media reports and his family.
A relative of Hillis told the local television news station KNWA – which is based in the retired player’s home state of Arkansas – that an emergency helicopter crew flew him to a hospital after a swimming accident on Wednesday in the popular vacation destination Pensacola. Hillis’s children reportedly almost drowned after the accident, but their father rescued them and they were physically unhurt.
However, Hillis reportedly nearly lost his life during the rescue and ended up being flown to a hospital ICU, where he arrived unconscious.
An uncle of Hillis, Greg Hillis, wrote on Facebook on Thursday that his nephew’s health was better, though he was still considered to be in critical condition.
“He’s … having some problems with his kidneys and his lungs, but the doctors say he is improving,” Greg Hillis’s post read in part.
KNWA obtained a report from the fire and rescue department which protects Pensacola that provided more details without identifying Hillis or the children.
The fire and rescue department said it was alerted to a swimmer in distress about 11.50am Wednesday, prompting two lifeguards and a firefighter to go into the water and pull out the person in need of help.
The rescued swimmer had apparently assisted four others who had been in peril in the water, the first responders’ agency said, according to KNWA. Those four swimmers were back on shore when first responders showed up at the scene.
Two of the people at the scene had to be taken to a hospital, including one who traveled by helicopter, KNWA added, citing the first responders’ agency.
Word of Hillis’s plight caused an outpouring of support among American football circles.
“What a hero he is,” tweeted Ryan Clark, the NFL media analyst and retired football player. Numerous other Twitter users struck a similar tone. “He risked his life for his babies. Man, I pray he finds a way back to his family. He deserves to see them grow.”
Hillis arrived in the NFL out of the University of Arkansas college football program as a seventh-round draft selection by the Denver Broncos in 2008.
The Broncos traded Hillis to the Cleveland Browns ahead of his third year in the league, and that season the hard-charging rusher broke out by running for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also tacked on 477 receiving yards and two touchdown receptions, all of which helped catapult him on to the cover of the Madden football video game released in August 2011.
Hillis played four more NFL seasons with the Browns, Chiefs and Giants, but he never again managed to have the same numbers that he did during that stellar 2010 campaign. That led many to regard him as an example of the so-called Madden curse, in which a number of the players featured on the cover of the series’ annually updated games subsequently performed poorly on the field.
Hillis has two children with his ex-wife, Amanda Hillis, but is now reported to be dating the singer-actor Angela Cole, with whom he co-starred in the 2021 independent film The Hunting and with whom he appeared on photos posted on social media during Christmas, according to the New York Post.
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