By Carma Hassan, Jason Hanna, David Close and Elizabeth Wolfe
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (Newsource) — Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin is awake in a Cincinnati hospital, is neurologically sound and is moving his hands and feet, doctors said Thursday, news that has drawn relief and joy from supporters nationwide days after the 24-year-old’s in-game cardiac arrest.
And his first question upon awakening?
“Did we win?” Hamlin scribbled on a clipboard, according to Dr. Timothy Pritts, vice chair for clinical operations at UC Health.
“Yes, Damar, you won. You’ve won the game of life,” Pritts said at a news conference in Cincinnati Thursday afternoon, paraphrasing the response of one of his medical partners.
Hamlin remains on a ventilator, and has been communicating with yes and no answers by shaking his head, nodding or writing brief notes, according to Pritts.
“So, we know that it’s not only that the lights are on, we know that he’s home. And that it appears all cylinders are firing within his brain,” Pritts said.
Hamlin has been treated at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center since Monday night, after he collapsed in the first quarter of Monday night’s Bills game against the host Cincinnati Bengals, stunning the packed stadium and leading to the contest’s postponement.
Associates of Hamlin, who had been sedated and intubated, spread news Thursday morning that he had awoken, though details about precisely when he awoke wasn’t immediately available. He has been holding hands with family in the hospital, his agent Ron Butler said Thursday.
Hamlin still is critically ill, Pritts said, but his condition has improved substantially in the past 24 hours, and “it appears his neurological condition and function is intact,” Pritts said.
“This marks a really good turning point in his ongoing care,” Pritts said. “There are many, many steps still ahead of him. From our standpoint, we would like to see him continue to improve, to be completely breathing on his own and to be ready to be discharged from the hospital.”
Hamlin was resuscitated and intubated on the field, according to Dr. William Knight IV, a professor with the University of Cincinnati’s department of emergency medicine. It is still unclear what caused Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, and the NFL will investigate what could have led to it, its Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills said Wednesday.
Thursday’s news drew comments and tweets of celebration from his teammates, players around the league and beyond, including from President Joe Biden.
“We heard that news this morning and there’s nothing that coulda been told to us to bring our day down,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who choked up when talking about watching Hamlin go down, said Thursday afternoon at a post-practice news conference devoted to Hamlin. “We’re extremely happy for him and his family.
“We just want to, we just want to love up on him, so the next chance we get, I don’t know when it’s gonna be, if we get to see him any time soon, it’s gonna be awesome.”
The President tweeted at Hamlin, referencing a phone call he made Wednesday.
“Great news. Damar, like I told your mom and dad yesterday, Jill and I — along with all of America — are praying for you and your family,” Biden posted on Twitter.
Details about Hamlin’s condition come as NFL players contemplate an emotional return to the field this weekend, with all 32 teams set for their final scheduled regular-season games this Saturday and Sunday.
The Bills, scheduled to host the Patriots on Sunday, met Wednesday and held their first full practice of the week Thursday. Players — already reeling from last year’s racist mass shooting and the recent deadly blizzard in their hometown — had a Zoom call Wednesday with Hamlin’s father, Mario Hamlin, who said his son was making progress, a source in the Bills organization said on Thursday.
No decision has been made on whether to resume Monday’s game — halted with the Bengals leading 7-3 — NFL spokesperson Brian McCarthy said on Thursday.
Some of this weekend’s games — and perhaps the postponed Bills-Bengals game, if it is ever made up — will have implications for the approaching NFL playoffs. The Bills (12-3) and Bengals (11-4) in particular have already clinched playoff spots but are jockeying for higher seeds in the American Football Conference.
Bills coach Sean McDermott said having Hamlin’s father talk to the team helped them turn their focus back to football. And “the news today as Josh alluded to, was a huge help to getting us back to focused on the game this weekend,” he told reporters at Thursday’s news conference.
Since his hospitalization, Hamlin has gotten a nationwide outpouring of support from fans and players across pro sports, including more than $7 million donated to his foundation’s toy drive GoFundMe as of Thursday morning. Several athletes have donned Hamlin’s No. 3 or his jersey while teams have honored him through Jumbotron messages and light displays at their stadiums.