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Damar Hamlin is awake, has made a ‘fairly remarkable recovery,’ doctors say

Doctors at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center said Jan. 5 that Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin was awake and could move his hands and feet. (Video: Reuters)
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Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin has made “substantial improvement” as part of a “fairly remarkable recovery” after he collapsed during Monday night’s game in Cincinnati and went into cardiac arrest on the field, his doctors said Thursday.

“There has been substantial improvement in his condition over the past 24 hours,” Timothy Pritts, a professor in the department of surgery at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, said at a news conference. “We had significant concern about him after the injury and after the event that happened on the field. But he is making substantial progress. As of this morning, he is beginning to awaken, and it appears that his neurological condition and function is intact.”

Hamlin is moving his hands and feet and is communicating by writing messages on a pad, his doctors said. Hamlin asked in writing whether the Bills had won Monday’s game.

“It’s been a long and difficult road for the last three days,” said William Knight IV, a professor in the school’s department of emergency medicine. “He has been very sick and has made a fairly remarkable recovery and improvement.”

Knight said that Hamlin, 24, is showing overall clinical improvement “related to not just his vital signs but a lot of his other individual organ recovery.”

The Bills said in a statement earlier Thursday that Hamlin had “shown remarkable improvement over the past 24 hours.”

Hamlin continues to be assisted by a ventilator and is unable to speak because of a breathing tube, Pritts said. But he responded to commands and can communicate by shaking his head in addition to writing messages. When Hamlin asked about the winner of Monday’s game, Pritts said, those with him at the time responded that Hamlin had won in life.

“It’s not only that the lights are on,” Pritts said. “We know that he’s home. And it appears that all the cylinders are firing, which is greatly gratifying for all of us.”

Damar Hamlin faced adversity and adapted on his way to the NFL

The doctors said they do not yet know the cause of Hamlin’s cardiac arrest. Knight called commotio cordis, a rare condition in which an impact to the chest causes arrhythmia and cardiac arrest, a possibility but said it was too early in the process to make a determination. Doctors for the NFL Players Association said commotio cordis is suspected as a working but not final diagnosis as the cause.

The doctors treating Hamlin cautioned that many steps remain in his recovery.

“He continues to be critically ill,” Pritts said, “and continues to undergo intensive care. … He still has significant progress that he needs to make. But this marks a really good turning point in his ongoing care. … 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 then to be ready to be discharged from the hospital.”

Knight said it is “entirely too early” to have a conversation about Hamlin’s football future. But he characterized a full recovery as possible.

“The best [outcome] is getting him to the way he was at 8 o’clock on Monday evening … completely neurologically intact, strong, good lung function, no cardiac dysfunction with his heart,” Knight said. “The best outcome would be back to who he was before all this happened.”

According to the doctors, Hamlin received one defibrillation and one round of CPR while on the field. He did not receive additional defibrillation or CPR once he was in the ambulance or at the hospital, they said.

“He was intubated on the field, had what I would deem a textbook resuscitation on the field from … CPR, defibrillation, airway management and then transport to the hospital,” Knight said.

The doctors credited the Bills’ medical staff for immediately recognizing the severity of Hamlin’s condition. Knight called patients’ recoveries from cardiac arrest “variable” and said of Hamlin’s progress: “It speaks to his age, his incredible fitness and then, again, I don’t think that we emphasize enough the immediate medical response.”

The encouraging developments came less than three full days after Hamlin collapsed following a first-quarter hit during the Bills’ game against the Cincinnati Bengals, which was later postponed. He was taken by ambulance that night to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center and has been listed in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

“The fact that we just keep hearing good news about Damar, it just keeps pushing us forward,” Bills quarterback Josh Allen said at a news conference Thursday at the team’s training facility.

The Bills practiced Thursday to prepare for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots in Orchard Park, N.Y.

“Putting that helmet back on today was a really good thing for our team and just to kind of go through that process,” Allen said. “But I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say some people are going to be changed forever after being on the field and witnessing that and feeling those emotions.”

As Bills safety Damar Hamlin remains hospitalized after suffering cardiac arrest, players and medical experts discuss his care and ways to make the game safer. (Video: Rich Matthews/The Washington Post)

Hamlin’s father, Mario, addressed the Bills remotely Wednesday from Cincinnati.

“That has helped,” Bills Coach Sean McDermott said. “And then again today, the news today… was a huge help to getting back to focused on the game this weekend.... I feel strongly — as his dad, as Mario mentioned to us — that this is what Damar would have wanted and wants…. We owe that to Damar. And we owe that to his family.”

Damar Hamlin’s collapse brought a flashback for Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Pronger

Hamlin’s injury, which occurred on a seemingly routine on-field collision with Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, led players leaguewide to reflect on the inherent dangers of their violent sport.

Former Cleveland Browns center JC Tretter, the president of the NFLPA, said that few players leaguewide have expressed concerns to the union about participating in this weekend’s games. But the feeling among the players in Monday’s game was unanimous when it was stopped, Tretter said: They did not want it resumed that night.

“The players had no interest in playing,” Tretter said in a video conference with reporters. “The coaches had no interest in coaching. Every player or former player watching that game knew they would be unable to play. In times where 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 and not what the right answer actually is. We made the determination it wouldn’t be smart to continue playing the moment we saw what happened. As we all know, it took a long time for that to actually go into effect.”

NFL won’t reschedule Bills-Bengals game, set to modify AFC playoffs

The NFL decided Thursday not to reschedule Monday’s postponed game, instead declaring it a cancellation. The Bills and Bengals will play only 16 regular season games apiece, one fewer than other teams.

The league also said Thursday night that it plans to modify the AFC playoff format to address the competitive inequities arising from that cancellation. Under the modified system, which is subject to ratification Friday by the league’s team owners, the AFC championship game could be played at a neutral site, under certain circumstances. Those conditions all involve the Bills or Bengals being involved in the game as the road team.

The site of a potential meeting between the Bengals and Baltimore Ravens in the opening round of the playoffs could be determined by a coin toss, under the proposed modifications.

Adam Kilgore and Nicki Jhabvala contributed to this report.