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UC Health Physicians: Damar Hamlin is awake and responsive; Bills medical staff helped save his life

Damar Hamlin (3). Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens, Week 4, October 02, 2022 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Damar Hamlin (3). Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens, Week 4, October 02, 2022 at M&T Bank Stadium.

A pair of UC Health Physicians spoke via a Zoom call for nearly an hour on Thursday afternoon, detailing the status of Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who has made "substantial improvement in his condition over the past 24 hours".

Among those improvements include Hamlin being awake and responsive with the ability to move both his hands and feet, while also being able to communicate with his doctors, nurses and family members via writing on a clipboard. More, Hamlin's neurological condition and function is intact after suffering cardiac arrest on Monday night.

Hamlin remains in intensive care in the surgical and trauma ICU room at the University of Cincinnati hospital, according to UC Health physicians William Knight IV, MD and Timothy Pritts, MD who were on the Zoom call and are part of the many individuals at the hospital helping treat Hamlin. He is still intubated to assist with breathing and the next hurdle in his recovery process is to progress to breathing on his own, according to both doctors.

"It's not only that the lights are on. We know that he's home. It appears all the cylinders are firing within his brain," Dr. Pritts said.

When Hamlin awoke Wednesday night, one of his first questions he asked via writing was who won the Bills-Bengals game. Doctors told him, "You won. You've won the game of life."

Both Dr. Pritts and Dr. Knight detailed the life-saving measures the Bills training staff took Monday night on the field in Cincinnati to ensure Hamlin could receive care at the hospital.

"The Bills training staff who was with him immediately recognized that this was not a run of the mill injury and that they had a significant event on their hands and immediately responded and got the emergency response team involved in his care. And really, 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," Dr. Pritts said.

One of the many members of the Bills training staff who stepped up was Bills assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington who administered CPR to Hamlin on the field. Both doctors confirmed that when Hamlin collapsed on the field, he had a pulse and then lost it, which is why the decision for the Bills staff to perform CPR was made.

"Not just saving his life, but his neurologic function. The reason why we're talking about his recovery of neurologic function is the true critical importance of immediate and good and high-quality CPR and immediate access to the defibrillation," Dr. Knight said.

Bills coach Sean McDermott spoke at a press conference at Highmark Stadium Thursday evening, adding more context to the interaction.

"Just like anything else, that whole team, our medical team, they go through their exercise, mock exercises for things like this," McDermott explained. "The context of it for an assistant to find himself at that position and needing to take the action that he did and step up and take charge like he did, and there were others on the field as well, is nothing short of amazing. And the courage that that took, you talk about a real leader, a real hero and saving Damar's life. Just admire his strength."

Since awaking in the hospital Wednesday night, Hamlin has held "many people's hands" as he continues to show improvement throughout Thursday.

"His parents have been with him constantly. There's a lot of family members, a lot of support from his family and friends, as well as members of the Buffalo Bills administrative and medical teams that have been really at his bedside throughout which is admirable in terms of the support of that the Bills that have shown here. And so yes, he's held many people's hands," Dr. Knight shared.

Dr. Pritts and Dr. Knight both said that the next step in Hamlin's recovery is showing he can fully breathe on his own and continuing to demonstrate sound neurological condition and function.

A best case scenario is getting him back to the health level he was at before the game.

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

Timeline of events

The UC Health Physicians did their best to give as much detail as possible as to the timeline of events the week, beginning with what happened Monday night and going into Hamlin's current state on Thursday.

"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. He was promptly resuscitated. It did require CPR and defibrillation and at which point he was transported to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center where he was met by Dr. Pritts and the trauma team as well as our emergency medicine colleagues," Dr. Knight said.

"He was managed and resuscitated and worked up in the emergency department, had some additional tests in the ED and in the hospital and then has been managed in the surgical ICU as Dr. Pritts said. It's been a long and difficult road for the last three days, he has been very sick and has made a fairly remarkable recovery and improvement to this point."

Currently, the doctors say it is unclear as to the exact cause of Hamlin's cardiac arrest and will continue to run tests to determine so. They confirmed that Hamlin received one defibrillation and one round of CPR on the field and did not require a second defibrillation or additional CPR once he was in the ambulance or at the hospital.

Upon immediate hospitalization, Hamlin was placed in the UC Health's Adult Level I Trauma Center and put on a ventilator to give him oxygen.

"After the initial event, we were supporting him on the ventilator 100%," Dr. Pritts said.

As Hamlin slowly began to shows signs of improved breathing the following day, the medical team incrementally decreased the amount of air supplied by the ventilator and allowed Hamlin to begin to supply his own oxygen. The goal for Hamlin is to soon be able to fully breathe on his own where he doesn't need the ventilator, though there is no time table on when that may happen.

"When we reach 0% support, breathing tube comes out. And then we define that as success," Dr. Pritts said.

Both doctors explained that the reason there isn't a firm timetable on when Hamlin could be expected breathe fully on his own is because every patient's recovery process is different. That said, they believe Hamlin can make it to that step.

"As long as it takes and whatever you need. And so from our standpoint, we will continue to give him all the support and intensive physician, ICU and respiratory care that he needs. But our goal is to eventually be able to peel that all away, so that he's doing it all on his own," Dr. Pritts said.

Through all of this, the amount of support from all over the country can be felt at the hospital and is nothing short of miraculous.

"All I have to do is look over my left shoulder and I see vigils and posters and well wishers and the food that has showed up at the hospital for the support for the family and for the emergency department and for the surgical ICU team," Dr. Knight said. "The support that's been done to the family. Damar's family has been wonderful. They've been right here. They've been great throughout the entire stay... it's been very powerful."

NFL teams and other sports teams around the country show their support for safety Damar Hamlin by lighting up their stadiums in Bills colors. Scroll to see the collection of stadiums with blue & red lighting.

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