Bills’ Hamlin communicating, showing ‘remarkable improvement’

Published 11:10 am Thursday, January 5, 2023

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s has begun to communicate in writing with his family and others who have been at his bedside since he went into cardiac arrest Monday — and his first question was “Did we win?” his doctors said Thursday.

“The answer is yes, Damar, you won. You’ve won the game of life.” Dr. Timothy Pritts said in a conference call with reporters from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where Hamlin was rushed after collapsing and being resuscitated on the field during the Bills’ game against the Bengals on Monday night.

Hamlin remains critically ill and in the hospital’s intensive care unit, but he began to wake up Wednesday night. It appears his neurological function is intact, meaning he can follow commands and move, Pritts said. Hamlin still cannot speak because of a breathing tube in his throat.

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“He still has significant progress he needs to make, but this marks a really good turning point in his ongoing care,” the doctor said.

“His first question that he wrote when he started to awaken was, ‘Did we win?′” Pritts said. “So we know that it’s not only that the lights are on. We know that he’s home. And it appears that all the cylinders are firing within his brain, which is greatly gratifying for all of us.”

Dr. William Knight IV said doctors had not yet determined the cause of Hamlin’s cardiac arrest and that testing is ongoing. It’s also too early to say whether Hamlin could return to football after undergoing rehabilitation, Knight said.

The developments came as the Bills returned to practice on Thursday for the first time since Hamlin collapsed when his heart stopped after making a tackle during the game’s first quarter.

The game was suspended and will not be resumed, two people familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Thursday. Both people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the league is still figuring out how to determine playoff seedings and scheduling. The NFL Players Association must approve changes.

Hamlin, a second-year player from the Pittsburgh area, spent the past two days sedated and listed in critical condition.
Knight credited the quick medical response with saving Hamlin’s life.

He said a physician was at Hamlin’s side within a minute of him collapsing and recognized that the defensive back did not have a pulse. Knight said Hamlin required CPR and resuscitation on the field.

Along with being able to write, his doctors said Hamlin was able to hold the hands of family and members of the Bills’ administrative and medical teams at his bedside.

Although Hamlin is following commands, doctors have not yet fully assessed his speech and other functions, in part because he is under sedation to accommodate the breathing tube.

“When we talk about neurologically intact, it’s a very gross term of big motor movements and following commands. When we talk about the finer things that make us human — cognition, emotion, speech, language, etc., we’re looking forward to learning more about that,” Knight said.

The chilling sight of Hamlin collapsing, which was broadcast on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football,” has led to an outpouring of support from fans and players from across the league.

Numerous players — former teammates and those who didn’t know Hamlin until Monday — voiced their support, while saying they were shaken by what happened.

Colts safety Rodney Thomas made the two-hour drive from Indianapolis to Cincinnati on Tuesday just to be by the side of his former high school teammate.

“He’s a fighter. I know he’s a fighter and there’s no other thought in my mind other than him walking out under his own power,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Harrison Phillips, who spent the previous four seasons playing for Buffalo, had dinner delivered to the hospital for Hamlin’s family and medical staff.

Hamlin’s marketing representative, Jordon Rooney, said Wednesday that the player’s family was buoyed by the words and acts of kindness. Fans, team owners and players have made donations to Hamlin’s Chasing M’s Foundation, which had raised more than $7 million by Thursday morning.

“They are elated right now,” Rooney said. “Damar is still their first concern. But for them, they always look at how they can turn a somewhat troubling situation into a good one. The bounce back from this, for him and his family is going to be incredible.”

What remains unclear is how the NFL will handle the result of Bills’ game against the Bengals, which has major implications in determining the top playoff spot in the AFC. The playoffs are set to open on Jan. 14.

Cincinnati led Buffalo 7-3 with 5:58 left in the first quarter when Hamlin was injured and play was suspended.

The Chiefs (13-3) have a half-game lead over Buffalo (12-3), with the Bills owning the tiebreaker after beating Kansas City this season. The Bengals (11-4) are currently the third seed and have also defeated the Chiefs.

Pushing the start of the playoffs back one week to complete the Bills-Bengals game is among the options. That would eliminate the bye week between the conference championship games on Jan. 29 and the Super Bowl on Feb. 12.

Other scenarios include playing the Bills-Bengals game and the NFC wild-card games on the same weekend and pushing the start of the AFC playoffs back one week. That also would eliminate the bye week before the Super Bowl.

Not resuming the Bills-Bengals game would be the simplest option from a scheduling standpoint because it wouldn’t require any other changes. The No. 1 seed and other playoff positions would then be determined by winning percentage. In that case, the Chiefs would have the inside track on securing a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

“Those guiding principles that got us through or took us into the 2020 season with COVID, all of those things will be things that guide us through this conversation and making sure that proper equity is in place,” NFL executive Troy Vincent said. “As we saw, potentially, there may be a lack of equity where it may not be perfect, but it will allow those that are participating or have earned that right to play, to continue to play.”

Some players across the league have expressed concern about playing this weekend because they’re still processing what happened to Hamlin. Many were in tears watching him receive medical attention on the field. They’re praying for his recovery and are dealing with emotions they’ve never experienced playing a sport.

“I’m sure if you polled the locker room there would be mixed votes on that,” Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said Wednesday. The Bengals play the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. “Personally, I think playing is going to be tough. But there’s people that want to play, and there’s people that don’t. Personally, I probably want to play. I think getting back to as normal as you can as fast as you can is how I deal with these kind of things. But like I said, everybody has a different way of dealing with it.”