Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who suffered a cardiac arrest during Monday's game against the Bengals, is beginning to awaken and has had "substantial improvement in his condition over the past 24 hours," two UC Health physicians involved in his care said Thursday during a conference call.
"We had significant concern about him after the injury and after the event that happened on the field, but he is making substantial progress," Dr. Timothy Pritts said on Thursday's call, which covered Hamlin's treatment, his current condition and his road to recovery. "As of this morning, he is beginning to awaken, and it appears that his neurological condition and function is intact. We are very proud to report that and very happy for him and for his family and for the Buffalo Bills organization that he is making improvement.
"He continues to be critically ill. He continues to undergo intensive care in our surgical and trauma ICU. He's being cared for by ICU neuro-critical care teams, trauma surgery and a cardiology team, as well as our expert nurses and respiratory therapists. They are attending to him, and he still has significant progress that he needs to make. But this marks a really good turning point in his ongoing care."
In order to be upgraded from critical to stable, Pritts said doctors will need to be able to remove Hamlin's breathing tube and have him show continual neurological and respiratory improvement.
Pritts said Thursday they have been able to discuss with Hamlin the events of Monday night. Hamlin currently is not able to speak due to his intubation, but he is able to express himself via pen and paper or head movement.
"He's not quite at the point where we can have a conversation because, again, he still has a breathing tube in and is able to communicate [with a yes or no] by shaking his head, nodding his head or with brief notes," Pritts said. "[Hamlin] expressed surprise that he had been not with the world for two days, and we talked to him about all the support that has been given from Cincinnati, Buffalo and really across the country for him and his family during this time."
Pritts said that in Hamlin's recovery process, doctors wanted to "gradually wake him up as the rest of his body was healing." Hamlin was able to emerge Wednesday night, and upon doing so, the first question he wrote to an attending nurse was: "Did we win?"
"The answer is, 'Yes, Damar. You won. You won the game of life.' " Pritts said. "That's probably the most important thing out of this and we really need to keep him at the center of everything else that's going on. And we really want to ensure a good outcome for him."
Pritts added: "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, for the nurses and the respiratory therapists and the care team that's been at his side, for his family and for everybody else beyond."
Dr. William Knight outlined the timeline of care Hamlin received Monday night after he collapsed on the field in the first quarter of Monday's game.
"As everybody knows, Mr. Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field, and it was promptly recognized by the Buffalo Bills medical staff, and that allowed for a very immediate resuscitation on the field," Knight said. "He was promptly resuscitated. He did require CPR and defibrillation, at which point he was transported to University of Cincinnati Medical Center where he was met by Dr. Pritts and the trauma team, as well as our emergency medicine colleagues. He was managed and resuscitated and worked up in the emergency department. Had some additional tests in the ED (Emergency Department) and in the hospital, and then has been managed at the surgical ICU, as Dr. Pritts said.
"It's been a long and difficult road the last three days. He has been very sick and has made a fairly remarkable recovery and improvement to the point that, as Tim noted, [Hamlin] is now demonstrating that sign of good neurologic recovery, as well as overall clinical improvement as has been previously reported related to not just his vital signs, but his other individual organ recovery."
Knight said they do not have "definitive answers" as to the cause of Hamlin's cardiac arrest, and "the tests will continue to be ongoing as he continues to rest."
Knight and Pritts each lauded the work done on the field by the Bills medical staff, which they said enabled Hamlin to be in the condition he is Thursday.
"We cannot credit their team enough," Knight said. "There are often, unfortunately, there are injuries that happen on sports fields, be it football or others, but it is incredibly rare to have something be this serious that happens like that. And to be that quickly recognized, what they did was immediately marshal the emergency action plan, meaning the emergency medical services. That prompted the airway physician, the emergency physician that was out on the field to be at his bedside in less than a minute. He had a prompt recognition of loss of pulse, which gave him immediate bystander CPR, which rarely if ever happens. The fact that Mr. Hamlin had immediate bystander CPR, in addition to prompt recognition of his arrhythmia to get defibrillated and then back to the return of circulation very quickly, that speaks to that timeline that you're asking about. To get a return of spontaneous circulation with immediate bystander CPR that was performed well. All meeting the standard of what we would expect in that scenario is what has led us to be able to discuss these good outcomes today."
Pritts added: "This went as well as something like this could go under very challenging circumstances. And they did a fantastic job, which is why we're here today."
Regarding Hamlin's path to recovery, Knight said that Hamlin "has a ways to go with liberation from the ventilator" and it is too early to project a long-term recovery, including if Hamlin could again play professional football.
A best-case scenario, according to Knight, is to get Hamlin back to how he was at 8 p.m. ET Monday and "back to who he was before this all happened."