Peyton Hillis expects to make a '100% recovery' after swimming incident landed him in ICU

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 8:  Running back Peyton Hillis #40 of the Cleveland Browns looks on from the sideline during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on December 8, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Steelers defeated the Browns 14-3.  (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Peyton Hillis, seen here with the Cleveland Browns in 2011. (George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

In his first public statement since a swimming accident left him hospitalized in intensive care with organ damage, Peyton Hillis announced Tuesday that he expects to "make a 100% recovery."

The former Arkansas and NFL running back made the announcement on social media in a statement thanking his caregivers, family and fans for their support.

"I haven’t taken any interviews on this because I’d like to keep my family out of the public eye because it was a very traumatic time for us," Hillis wrote on Twitter. "But I did want to come on here and show my appreciation for everyone who helped save my life and for all of your prayers and love and support. I left the hospital with no worries and concerns and should make a 100% recovery.”

Hillis was hospitalized in Pensacola, Florida, after the incident on Jan. 4. According to local media, citing an Escambia County Fire Rescue incident report, emergency responders were called to a water rescue off Pensacola Beach that morning. Per the report, two lifeguards and one firefighter rode a jet ski to tend to a single swimmer in distress.

KNWA's Alyssa Orange confirmed on Jan. 5 that Hillis was transported to a local hospital via helicopter following a swimming accident at Pensacola Beach. He was unconscious and in the ICU at the time, according to the report.

A man that Orange identified as Hillis' uncle, Greg Hillis, previously posted on Facebook that Hillis was "having some problems with his kidneys and his lungs but the doctors say he is improving."

What happened in the water isn't clear. According to WKRG, the single swimmer presumed to be Hillis had helped rescue four other swimmers in distress prior to requiring his own rescue by emergency responders.

Hillis' family hasn't clarified what happened in subsequent updates on his health, but his girlfriend, Angela Cole, wrote that he was a "hero" in a Jan. 11 Instagram post announcing that he'd been taken off a ventilator.

Nine days later, Hillis was discharged from Pensacola's Baptist Hospital. Cole posted a picture of Hills smiling while surrounded by caregivers.

"Peyton has been discharged from the hospital," Cole wrote. "The amount of love and gratitude I have for the incredible team that took care of Peyton is indescribable."

Until Tuesday, Hillis hadn't publicly addressed the ordeal or his health status.

Hills, 37, played running back at Arkansas before being selected by the Denver Broncos in the seventh round of the 2008 draft. After two seasons of limited production from Hillis, the Broncos traded him to the Cleveland Browns in a deal to acquire quarterback Brady Quinn. That's when Hillis' career took a dramatic upswing.

Hillis tallied 1,177 rushing yards, 477 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns in 2010, his first season in Cleveland. The effort didn't earn him a Pro Bowl nod, but it eventually led to his image on the cover of “Madden NFL 12" via a fan vote.

Hillis never replicated his 2010 production, but went on to play eight total seasons in the NFL for the Broncos, Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and New York Giants. Since retiring, he's gone on to act in the independent 2021 horror movie "The Hunting" alongside Cole.