A week after NFL star Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest on the field during a game in Ohio, the Bills’ safety was back in Buffalo, New York, where he is continuing the next stage of recovery Tuesday.
Hamlin was transferred Monday from a Cincinnati hospital to another in Buffalo after doctors determined his critical condition had improved to good or fair, a recovery marker that has surpassed expectations.
“We felt that it was safe and proper to help get him back to the greater Buffalo area,” Dr. Timothy Pritts, chief of surgery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, said Monday during a news conference.
Hamlin, 24, has been regaining strength at the hospital over the past several days after he suddenly collapsed on the field following a tackle in a January 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
“He’s certainly on what we consider a very normal to even accelerated trajectory from the life-threatening event that he underwent, but he’s making great progress,” Pritts said.
Normal recovery from a cardiac arrest can be measured in weeks to months, Pritts explained, but Hamlin has been beating that timeline at each stage and is neurologically intact.
Still, Pritts indicated it’s too early to say when Hamlin could get back to normal life or what caused his heart to stop, noting more testing is needed.
Hamlin was under sedation and on a ventilator for days after his cardiac arrest. On Friday morning, the breathing tube was removed, and Hamlin began walking with some help by that afternoon, his doctors said Monday at the news conference.
The player’s condition was upgraded Monday because his organ systems were stable, and he no longer needed intensive nursing or respiratory therapy, the doctors explained.
“He walks normally. He is admittedly a little weak. I don’t think that’s of any real surprise after what he went through, just regaining his strength, and that’s part of his recovery process,” said Dr. William Knight, a neurovascular critical care expert who has been treating Hamlin at UC Health.
Hamlin’s release Monday meant he could return to his team’s home city, which prompted even more encouragement and eagerness for some of his teammates to see him again.
“Super excited that he’s back in Buffalo and what a job that the team of docs and the medical team did out in Cincinnati, and now he’s in great care here in Buffalo. We’re happy to have him back,” Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott told reporters Monday.
After seeing him Monday, McDermott said Hamlin was “tired” but seemed happy. “Happy to be back in Buffalo and around a familiar area to him. I know he’s taking it just one step at a time.”
The coach also said his team grew since Hamlin was injured, saying such experiences nurture growth.
“We will all have grown as people, and as men in this case,” McDermott said, noting there’s a plan in place for the players and staff to visit Hamlin “at the proper time.”
“Having him nearby will give us more comfort” and inspire the team as it prepares for the postseason, McDermott said.
Although Hamlin was not with the team when they played Sunday against the New England Patriots, his support was definitely felt.
When his team scored a touchdown, Hamlin set off alarms in the ICU, Pritts said.
“When the opening kickoff was run back, he jumped up and down and got out of his chair and set – I think – every alarm off in the ICU in the process, but he was fine, it was just an appropriate reaction to a very exciting play. He very much enjoyed it,” Pritts said.
Hamlin was “beyond excited” Sunday and felt “very supported by the outpouring of love from across the league, especially from the Buffalo area. We’ve learned this week that the Bills mafia is a very real thing,” Pritts added.
The immediate medical response to Hamlin’s collapse helped save his life, and the Buffalo Bills are now encouraging people to learn how to administer CPR.
Assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington is credited with performing CPR when Hamlin lost his pulse on the field and needed to be revived through resuscitation and defibrillation.
The medical response was part of an emergency action plan that “involves team, independent medical and athletic training staff, equipment and security personnel, and is reviewed prior to every game,” a Monday statement from the Bills read.
The team pledged support for resources including CPR certifications, automated external defibrillator units and guidance developing cardiac emergency response plans within the Buffalo community, according to the statement.
“We encourage all our fans to continue showing your support and take the next step by obtaining CPR certification,” the Bills said.