Doctors treating Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin at a hospital said he was beginning to awaken but still critically ill and on a ventilator.
Damar Hamlin was awake, could move his hands and feet, and was able to write with a pen to ask who won the game between the Bills and Bengals where he had a cardiac arrest on the field earlier this week, his doctors said Thursday.
“When he asked did we win, the answer is, yes, you know, Damar, you won, you’ve won the game of life,” Dr. Timothy A. Pritts said.
Dr. Pritts and Dr. William Knight IV of the University of Cincinnati Medical Center told reporters during a news conference on Thursday that the communication was a positive sign. Dr. Pritts said that Hamlin was surprised to learn that he was “not with the world for two days” when he woke up on Wednesday night.
Dr. Pritts said Hamlin was able to hold hands with people in his hospital room. But Dr. Knight said it was “truly too early” to determine whether Hamlin might make a full recovery and perhaps return to professional football. The next big milestone for Hamlin, the doctors said, was breathing entirely on his own; Hamlin is still using a ventilator.
And Dr. Knight said it was too early to tell whether Hamlin would regain finer motor function and that processes like cognition, motion, speech and language would need to be assessed in the future.
“We know that he’s home and that it appears that all the cylinders are firing within his brain,” Dr. Pritts said. “Which is greatly gratifying for all of us for the nurses and respiratory therapists and caregivers as for his family and for everybody else beyond.”
Dr. Knight and Dr. Pritts did not have a definitive answer for what caused Hamlin’s cardiac arrest on Monday night, and did not know if the hit that Hamlin took to the chest as he made a tackle played a role in the moments before his cardiac arrest. But Dr. Knight said that “tests will continue to be ongoing as he continues to progress.”
More on Damar Hamlin’s Collapse
- A ‘True Leader’: As a professional football player and community mentor, Damar Hamlin has reached two of his life goals: making it to the N.F.L. and helping others along the way.
- N.F.L.’s Violent Spectacle: The appetite for football has never been higher, even as viewers look past the sport’s toll on players’ lives. Mr. Hamlin’s collapse should force a reconsideration, our columnist writes.
- Danger Across Sports: Mr. Hamlin’s collapse has brought attention to sudden cardiac arrest and the vulnerability of athletes from the youth leagues to the professional ranks.
- Faith and Football: The outpouring of public piety from players and fans shows how Christianity is embedded in N.F.L. culture in a way that goes beyond most sports.
They repeatedly thanked the football teams’ medical staffs for how quickly they provided aid to Hamlin, which they said saved his neurological function.
“At the end of this, this will really be looked at as an opportunity to really ensure that, God forbid, the next time anything like this happens, it goes as well as it did in Cincinnati,” Dr. Pritts said.
On Monday night, Buffalo Bills players watched in horror as Hamlin, 24, laid on the field and medical staff attempted to restart his heart after he had collapsed and fell backward following a routine tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals. Hamlin remained on the field for 10 minutes before being transported to the hospital.
The game was suspended, and Bills receiver Stefon Diggs was shown in a hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants walking into the hospital. Later that night, the team flew back to Buffalo.
After holding a walk-through practice on Wednesday, the Bills were back to practice again on Thursday in preparation for a game on Sunday against the New England Patriots.
The news of Hamlin’s positive steps at the hospital resonated throughout the sports world, as the Bills streamed the news conference with the doctors on Twitter.
In a news conference Thursday at the team’s stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y., Bills Coach Sean McDermott, quarterback Josh Allen, offensive lineman Mitch Morse and cornerback Dane Jackson all said that news of Hamlin’s improving condition had elated and relieved them, even as they continue to worry about him and pray for his recovery.
The good news combined with an inspiring videoconference with Hamlin’s father, Mario, Allen said, was all the lift the team needed to be able to focus on Sunday’s home game against the New England Patriots.
“You lose sleep, you hurt for your brother,” Allen said. But hearing about Hamlin’s improvement, he said, “eases so much of that pain and that tension.”
In the Bengals’ locker room, players and coaches at Thursday’s practice said Hamlin’s progress lightened the mood of an otherwise heavy three days.
Before the start of practice, Cincinnati receiver Tee Higgins, who initiated the blow to Hamlin on Monday night, jogged up a field, bowed his head as if he was praying and then began his warm-ups. Higgins told reporters at his locker Thursday that Hamlin’s mother, Nina, texted him that morning and told him her son was improving.
“Knowing that he’s OK, that he’s doing better, it makes me feel better inside,” Higgins said. He said he did not immediately realize the severity of the injury, but as the scene unfolded, he was “not in a good space” to finish the rest of the game.
Troy Vincent, the N.F.L.’s executive vice president of football operations, said early Tuesday morning that there had been no consideration of resuming play on Monday night after Hamlin’s collapse. But in a news conference on Thursday, representatives from the N.F.L. Players Association called into question the length of time, about an hour from when Hamlin’s injury occurred, that it took for the N.F.L. to announce that it was suspending the game.
J.C. Tretter, a retired N.F.L. center who is the players’ union president, said that the players had no interest in continuing to play on Monday night. According to the N.F.L. rule book, the decision is up to Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“In times when a leader needs to make a decision, when you take a bunch of time to ask everybody else what their opinion would be, it seems more like you’re searching for the answer you want, not what the right answer actually is,” Tretter said. “We made the determination it wouldn’t be smart to continue playing the moment we saw what happened and how scary that was. Again, as we all know, it took a long time for that to actually go into effect.”
The league announced Thursday night the Bills-Bengals game would be canceled and teams would meet Friday to discuss how to account for those teams having played one less regular season game for the playoffs. The matchup had significant playoff implications in the A.F.C. as the final week of regular-season games starts Saturday.
Hamlin, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2021 N.F.L. draft out of the University of Pittsburgh, became a starter earlier this season when the All-Pro safety Micah Hyde sustained a neck injury. Across 15 games and 13 starts, Hamlin had 63 individual tackles — second on the team.
With Hamlin hospitalized, the Bills signed safety Jared Mayden from the Jets’ practice squad and released cornerback Xavier Rhodes, announcing the move on social media Wednesday. The transaction was another reminder of the merciless next-man-up culture in America’s most popular sport, where teams must quickly move on and replace players who may have life-altering injuries.
Buffalo, Cincinnati and Kansas City are all in a race for the A.F.C.’s No. 1 seed, a position that carries a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs until the Super Bowl.
Emmanuel Morgan contributed reporting from Cincinnati, Jenny Vrentas from New York and Dan Higgins from Orchard Park, N.Y.