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'Did we win?' Damar Hamlin is back
The good news is rolling in. Here's what the doctors at University of Cincinnati Medical Center said on Thursday.
With a breathing tube down his throat, Damar Hamlin took pen to paper and asked perhaps the most badass question in NFL history.
“Did we win?”
Hamlin was assured that, yes, he won. He won in “the game of life.”
What a miraculous turnaround this has been for the Buffalo Bills safety.
After making a routine tackle Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, Hamlin went into cardiac arrest, collapsed and needed CPR. By Thursday afternoon, University of Cincinnati Medical Center doctors were holding a press conference to let the world know Hamlin was making “substantial improvement” in his recovery. The 24-year-old still has a long road ahead of him but he is awakening. Dr. Timothy Pritts and Dr. William Knight held an expansive, enlightening conversation with reporters.
A few takeaways below…
Hamlin asking who won the game also served as a crucial revelation. As Dr. Pritts added, this proved “not only that the lights are on. We know he’s home.” His neurological functionality appears intact, a major concern once Hamlin arrived at the hospital. One doctor went as far to say “all the cylinders are firing in his brain.” He is also moving his hands and feet.
The No. 1 goal right now is to get Hamlin off of the ventilator. Neither doctor was sure how long the recovery process would take. To be upgraded to “stable” condition, though, Hamlin will need to be taken off the breathing tube and show progress in his breathing.
Both doctors repeatedly credited the Bills’ medical staff for saving Hamlin’s life, bluntly stating that their rapid call to action is the reason they were even discussing Hamlin at such a presser. Dr. Knight described it as “textbook resuscitation.” As first reported by SI’s Albert Breer, assistant trainer Denny Kellington has been specifically credited for reviving Hamlin. And the immediate CPR not only saved Hamlin’s life, but also preserved neurological functionality, the doctors added.
Related: It is time for the Bills to erect the Danny Kellington statue. Or name a street after him. Or supply him a lifetime supply of chicken wings. What a hero.
When Hamlin arrived at UC Medical, there was still major concern. Knight described this as a “long and difficult road for the last three days” with Pritts citing Wednesday night as a key turning point. Under sedation, Hamlin started to wake up as his body healed.
There is no clear answer as to what caused the cardiac arrest at this time. One possibility is the extremely rare case of commotio cordis but no cause has been determined yet. This was of course the widely speculated condition. Commotio cordis occurs when intense trauma to the chest sends additional waves of electricity through the heart, which throws off the heartbeat. It can be fatal.
When asked if Hamlin is aware that that everyone is praying so hard for him, the doctors smiled and said he is “learning it today.” The GoFundMe for Hamlin’s community toy drive is up to $7,747,880, and counting.
Here’s what members of the Buffalo Bills had to say as the team somehow moves forward to play a football game this Sunday against the New England Patriots…
“Yesterday, Damar’s father spoke to the team. His message was: ‘The team needs to get back to focusing on the goals they had set for themselves. Damar would’ve wanted it that way.’ And I’m paraphrasing. So, that includes our game against New England this week. I think that has helped. And then, again, today the news was a huge help to getting us back to focused on the game this weekend.”
“I’m not on the field playing, and I think there’s a different dimension when you’re actually out there playing. I feel strongly, as his Dad Mario mentioned to us, that this is what Damar would’ve wanted and wants. We owe that — and this is my opinion, my take on it — we owe that to Damar. We owe that to his family.”
“I’ve never been around a city or a region like this, that is so in-sync—the team and the fan base. I mean that. … This is what Western New York and fans of the Buffalo Bills, this is what we do.”
"I went in and addressed the team and just felt like overall, it was going to be really hard to put them back out there (on Monday night). But I wanted to give them the option to go back out there if they wanted to. And led by Josh and a couple of the other captains, they decided not to go back out there."
“Amazing. Denny is one of our assistant trainers. Nate Breske is our head trainer. Like anything else, that whole medical team, they go through their mock exercises for things like this. But we are never around to see that when they do that. As they say, practice pays off. 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, is nothing short of amazing. And the courage that it took, you talk about a real leader, a real hero in saving Damar’s life, I admire his strength.”
“Josh did share something with me via text that he saw earlier today. I looked at it. It was about what Damar’s Mom is going to share with him when he wakes up.” (Gets choked up) “It’s amazing to know the impact that this has had on so many people. And for Damar to be awake — and for his Mom to be able to share that with him — is incredible.”
“Everyone’s going to deal with it their own way. But having the counselors, I’ve been able to have conversations with other NFL head coaches who’ve been through traumatic events. Obviously not one is exactly like this. They’ve been great. From Joe Gibbs to Mike Tomlin, Romeo Crennel, a couple of our coaches have spoken with Marvin Lewis as well."
“Being on that field, you lose sleep. You hurt for your brother. A lot of shared grief but getting updates — and positive updates — eases so much of that pain and that tension that you feel. But coach handled it as perfect as anybody could.”
“I don’t typically like using emotion to answer your questions. But, yeah. The scene just replays over and over in your head. It’s hard to answer that question and actually describe how I felt, how my teammates felt in that moment. It’s something we’ll never forget. But to know that Damar is doing OK — and I know there’s a lot of stuff he has to go through to get back to himself — we’re just… we heard that news this morning and there’s nothing that could’ve been told to us to bring our day down. We’re extremely happy for him and his family. We just want to love up on him. So the next chance we get, I don’t know when it’s going to be, if we get to see him any time soon, it’s going to be awesome.”
“I think for every person, it’s going to be a little different. I think putting that helmet back on today was a really good thing for our team. To go through that process. 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. But the best way we can continue to move forward — the updates we get on Damar really lift our spirits. Leaning on each other. Talking to each other. We’ve had some very open and honest and deep talks. Some unbelievable embraces as men. Hugging somebody and actually leaning into them. There’s been a lot of that going around and you need every bit of it. You really do. The fact that we keep hearing good news about Damar, it keeps pushing us forward.”
“His Dad said the first thing he’s going to ask when he wakes up is ‘Who won the game?’ Sure enough, that’s what he did. As teammates, you love hearing that response. The first thing on his mind wasn’t ‘Poor me.’ It was ‘How are my teammates doing? Did we win this game?’ That’s powerful in itself. I don’t think people really understand the bond, the relationships and the brotherhood that you have as an NFL team. Especially this one here. Guys love each other. We really do. For Damar to go through that and come out on the other side, and still think about his teammates, that’s Damar. That’s who he is.”
“This is the freakiest of freak accidents. It took the worst possible timing for this to happen. But the mental aspect of it — going onto that field — if you have that thought, that’s putting yourself at risk even more, putting your teammates at risk even more. I know coach is doing a great job of making sure guys understand that and understand, mentally, that you have to be bought in, too. As humans, it’s hard to not feel that way. Obviously there’s injuries. That’s part of the sport. This is the worst possible case scenario you could ever think of. We’re just happy Damar’s alright.”
“Mario talking to us as a team… and he didn’t really tell us. He demanded us. You can’t not honor his request to go out there and charge forward to the best of our abilities. We’ll be playing with less heavy hearts now, knowing that… today’s news was a lot of tears of joy. I’ll tell you that. Knowing that that’s what he wants, that’s what his Dad wants, I think guys are excited to get out there.”
“I’m doing a lot better now that the updates are coming in. … It’s a huge relief. The worst part about everything is the unknown. Us not knowing his status. Everybody did a great job of giving us updates and everything like that. But with that being our brother and him being so close, you’re just wondering, ‘Is he going to be alright?’ Once we got updates and once we got feedback, it started making us feel a little better for sure.”
“It’s the bond we’ve all created. Every day in the locker room, there’s never a dull moment. It’s with everyone. We’re all here for each other. It could be about anything. We’re always like, ‘Are you OK?’ We’re around each other so much, we notice the smallest change in your behavior every day. We’ll be there for each other when tough times like this go down.”
“A lot of people know our history and our background so a lot of guys were coming up to me and making sure I was good. Just checking on me, for sure. I appreciate that a lot.”
“He’s a giver. He’s a fighter. He’s a warrior. He’s an encourager. His Chasing Millions foundation, I remember going all the way back to college when he wasn’t allowed to be on the forefront of it because he was in college — his Dad had to take most of it — but that is what he always wanted to do. He has always wanted to give back. He has always wanted to help. He’s always looking for the next opportunity to be a light for someone who wants to be in our position. That’s just him. Thinking of it, makes me smile. I know once he gets back to himself, he’s going to look forward to helping out so many others.”
“It was one of those things, we were kind of writing the script on it as you went. It was chaos at any given moment. When we were able to get to that locker room, a lot of things happened. One, we were able to collect ourselves and help each other out in the confines of that locker room. We also had the whole team in a confined space. We could have discussions and conversations, not only between ourselves, but then coach putting us in position to ultimately make a decision. There was no way in hell we were ready to go out there and play a game. Even if there were just a few guys who weren’t ready—which there was way more—to play this game, where you have to be mentally on the field for yourself and others around you, it would’ve done a disservice to everyone. There was no chance. We were thankful for that opportunity to come together and do that.”
“Processing this with family, teammates. Taking it moments at a time. You have dialogue with yourself as that. The biggest thing is hearing from the family and hearing how he has progressed has really put… to say there’s smiles on our faces would be an understatement. We were as elated as you possibly could be as a team. It was a really cool moment. And then being able to put the pads on and do a little football today was therapeutic for the guys. Each person is going to process this in a different manner. Emotions might be delayed. Emotions might hit you at different times. We’re here for each other. Everyone has a really good support system.”
— Want to know more about Damar Hamlin, the human being? Here is our profile on Hamilin from July 2021. We should not be shocked by this miracle. To his core, the McKees Rocks, Pa., native is a fighter with a “higher purpose.”
— This was football’s most horrific hour. I tried to make sense of the mortifying scenes in Cincy with this column.
— Former Buffalo Bills director of personnel Jim Monos and myself spent an hour trying to make sense of this all on the podcast. How do we reconcile supporting such a violent game? This was a difficult conversation.