Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin has been cleared to resume playing 4 1/2 months after going into cardiac arrest and having to be resuscitated on the field during a game in Cincinnati.
General manager Brandon Beane said Hamlin got clearance after meeting with a third and final specialist last week, with all three agreeing the 25-year-old can play again without fear of setbacks or complications.
Here’s a look at Hamlin’s road back:
Early in Buffalo’s Week 17 game at Cincinnati, Hamlin attempted to tackle Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins on a routine play. Higgins’ right shoulder hit Hamlin in the chest, before Hamlin wrapped his arms around Higgins’ shoulder and helmet to drag him down.
Hamlin quickly got to his feet, appeared to adjust his face mask with his right hand, then fell backward about three seconds later and lay motionless on the field. He was given medical treatment, including CPR, on the field for nearly 20 minutes before being taken in an ambulance to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.
The game was delayed before being called off, while the Bills flew home with Hamlin still in the hospital. Quarterback Josh Allen tweeted, “Please pray for our brother,” one of many social media posts that followed the chilling scene that played out on national television.
The Bills said Hamlin remained in critical condition and was sedated in the hospital, acknowledging his heart had stopped on the field before being restored.
Players around the league voiced their support for Hamlin, and fans held vigils in Cincinnati and outside the Bills’ home stadium in Orchard Park, New York. A GoFundMe page for Hamlin’s toy drive for kids received roughly $5.5 million in donations in the first 24 hours after his injury.
While Hamlin remained in critical condition and under sedation, the team said he had displayed signs of improvement and was expected to remain in intensive care.
Jordon Rooney, a marketing representative for Hamlin, said Hamlin’s condition continued to move in “a positive direction” and that he and family members remain optimistic.
NFL officials said they were still considering various options following the suspension of the Bills-Bengals game. Buffalo’s home game against New England scheduled for the weekend, as well as the others around the league, remained on the schedule.
Hamlin began to wake up late at night.
Doctors said Hamlin began to communicate in writing with family and others at his bedside, adding that his first question was, “Did we win?”
“The answer is yes, Damar, you won. You’ve won the game of life,” Dr. Timothy Pritts told reporters in a conference call. Pritts said Hamlin’s neurological function appeared to be intact, meaning he could follow commands and move.
Dr. William Knight IV said doctors had not yet determined the cause of Hamlin’s cardiac arrest and that testing was ongoing.
Hamlin was still listed in critical condition in intensive care.
The Bills resumed practice, boosted by a rallying message on a video call from Hamlin’s father, Mario. The team’s motto went from “Pray for Damar” to “Play for Damar,” with coach Sean McDermott talking about the remarkable progress Hamlin had made.
The NFL said it would not resume the game and laid out playoff scenarios to compensate for its cancellation, which owners approved the next day.
Hamlin was taken off a ventilator. Breathing on his own and able to talk, Hamlin joined a Bills team meeting via videoconference, telling teammates, “Love you boys.”
McDermott said players stood up and clapped for Hamlin.
In an expected formality, the team put Hamlin on the season-ending injured reserve list.
Doctors described Hamlin’s neurological function as “excellent,” adding he remained in critical condition after taking major steps forward in his recovery a day earlier.
NFL games resumed with Hamlin tributes at stadium across the country. His No. 3 was on display everywhere across the league, outlined on 30-yard lines on fields, worn on special patches on the Bills uniforms and featured on jackets and sweatshirts and even on red hearts dangling from the tailgate tents outside their home stadium.
Buffalo beat New England 35-23, a victory that began with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Nyheim Hines on the game’s opening play that elicited an excited tweet from Hamlin.
Hamlin was discharged from the hospital in Cincinnati and flown to continue care in western New York, where he was listed in stable condition at Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute.
Doctors said Hamlin has been walking since having a breathing tube removed, eating regular food and undergoing therapy. They said he was on a normal or even accelerated trajectory in his recovery from cardiac arrest and that normal recovery can be measured from weeks to months.
Hamlin was released from the hospital in Buffalo after doctors said they completed tests and were satisfied he could be safely discharged.
Hamlin visited with teammates at the Bills’ facility for the first time since being discharged from the hospital.
Hamlin cheered on his team’s playoff win against Miami the following day from home.
Hamlin made his first public appearance since going into cardiac arrest, waving to fans from a stadium suite during the Bills’ home playoff game against the Bengals.
Hamlin stood in front of the windows and raised his arms to salute the crowd, encouraging fans to get on their feet. He ended by forming a heart sign with his hands, his signature gesture.
The Bills lost the game 27-10.
Hamlin made several appearances in Phoenix during Super Bowl week.
On Feb. 8, he won the NFLPA’s Alan Page Community Award, which recognizes one player who goes above and beyond to perform community service in his team city and/or hometown, and his foundation received $100,000.
Two days later, he joined the first responders who helped save his life onstage at the “NFL Honors.” He appeared on the field prior to the Super Bowl on Feb. 12, joining members of the medical staffs of the Bills, Bengals and UC Medical Center.
On March 29, Hamlin appeared with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, D-Fla., to discuss a bill that would increase access to defibrillators in public elementary and secondary schools.
The next day, he met with President Joe Biden, who said in a tweet that “Hamlin’s courage, resilience, and spirit inspired the American people.”
After Beane announced Hamlin’s intent to return, Hamlin made it clear he wants to play football again.
“My heart is still in the game,” Hamlin said. “I love the game. It’s something I want to prove to myself, not nobody else. I just want to show people that fear is a choice, that, you know, you can keep going in something without having the answers.
“You might feel anxious, you might feel any type of way, but you just keep putting that right foot in front of the left one and you keep going.”