Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s breathing tube was removed overnight and he’s spoken to his teammates via video, the Bills said Friday morning, four days after the 24-year-old’s in-game cardiac arrest stunned millions who watched the emergency play out live.
“Love you boys,” Hamlin, still in a Cincinnati hospital, told his New York-based team Friday via FaceTime, the Bills said on Twitter.
When Hamlin appeared on the screen, his teammates “stood up right away and clapped for him” and yelled some things to him, head coach Sean McDermott told reporters.
“We got our boy, man! That’s all that matters,” Bills offensive tackle Dion Dawkins told reporters later Friday, describing what it was like to see Hamlin in the video call.
Hamlin “continues to progress remarkably in his recovery,” his “neurologic function remains intact and he has been able to talk to his family and care team,” the Bills tweeted Friday morning, citing his physicians. Still, his medical team has cautioned that many phases of Hamlin’s recovery lay ahead.
Friday’s news comes a day after physicians announced Hamlin, who’d been sedated, was awake and had made “substantial improvement” – information that was met with messages of joy and relief from across the NFL and beyond.
When physicians announced Thursday that Hamlin was awake, they said his next big milestone would be breathing on his own without a ventilator.
Hamlin collapsed Monday during the first quarter of the Bills’ game against the host Cincinnati Bengals. He was rushed from the field in an ambulance, stunning a packed stadium – with players left crying and embracing – and prompting on outpouring of support from strangers across the nation, including from those who watched the medical emergency on live TV.
Hamlin on Thursday had been communicating only nonverbally because he still was intubated. Upon awakening, his mind was still on the game as he scribbled his first question on a clipboard: “Did we win?” a doctor said.
“So, we know that it’s not only that the lights are on, we know that he’s home. And that it appears all cylinders are firing within his brain,” Dr. Timothy Pritts, vice chair for clinical operations at University of Cincinnati Health where Hamlin is being treated, told reporters Thursday.
Hamlin still was critically ill Thursday, said the physicians, who did not say precisely when he started waking up. Tests are underway to determine the cause of his cardiac arrest, a physician said Thursday. Cardiac arrest results from electrical disturbances that cause the heart to suddenly stop beating properly, and death can occur quickly if help isn’t rendered immediately; it is not the same as a heart attack or heart failure.
The league’s players, many shaken by Hamlin’s collapse, now are preparing for an emotional return to competition to play their final games of the regular season Saturday and Sunday.
That includes on Sunday the Bills hosting the New England Patriots and the Bengals hosting the Baltimore Ravens. The league Friday announced plans to honor Hamlin at all 16 of this weekend’s contests, including by asking crowds to cheer in a “moment of support” before the national anthem for Hamlin and medical caregivers.
Players during warmups will have an option to wear T-shirts displaying “Love for Damar 3,” a nod to Hamiln’s jersey number. Bills players will wear patches with Hamlin’s number.
The NFL announced Thursday the Bills-Bengals game – which was initially postponed Monday night – will not be resumed or made up. Both the Bills and the Bengals already have clinched playoff berths.
While nullifying Monday’s game will have no effect on which teams qualify for the playoffs, the imbalance in number of games played has led the NFL to make unprecedented provisions for the postseason based on how the Bills and Bengals are seeded and their potential opponents.
Bills cautiously approach Sunday’s game
The Bills, shaken by Hamlin’s collapse, stressed for most of this week they were focusing only on their teammate’s condition – and only hesitantly, and gradually, talked about this weekend’s game as it drew nearer.
Seeing Hamlin on video Friday was amazing, Dawkins told reporters.
“It has given us so much energy, so much bright, high spirits, whatever you want to call it … To see him smile … it was everything,” Dawkins said.
The team met Wednesday and had a walk through before having the week’s first full practice Thursday. In a video call with the team Wednesday, Hamlin’s father said his son was making progress, and that “took a whole bunch of weight off our shoulders,” Dawkins told “CNN This Morning” Friday.
The top priority is the health and well-being of the players, Bills head coach Sean McDermott said in a news conference Friday morning.
“We’ve been working on that,” McDermott said when asked about the task of preparing for Sunday’s game. “There’s different waves or hurdles we need to continue to cross as we inch toward the game here, and it is coming fast.”
The players have had “some very open and honest and deep talks” since their teammate was hospitalized Monday, Bills quarterback Josh Allen said Thursday.
“I think putting that helmet back on was a really good thing for our team,” he said of returning to practice, “… but I would 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.”
The Bills on Friday placed Hamlin on the injured reserve list and activated cornerback Christian Benford.
Medical staff praised for quick response
Doctors and Bills team members have repeatedly applauded the immediate action of medical personnel who rushed to Hamlin just seconds after his collapse.
Assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington performed CPR on Hamlin as he lay on the field, Bills offensive lineman Dion Dawkins tweeted Thursday. The trainer saved Hamlin’s life, McDermott said Thursday.
“As they say, practice pays off and it did in this case,” the coach said at Thursday’s post-practice news conference devoted to Hamlin. “But again, 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 took, you talk about a real leader, a real hero, in saving Damar’s life.”
Medical personnel working on the sidelines when Hamlin collapsed called for everyone to assist, according to audio obtained by CNN. “I don’t like how he went down,” and “We’re going to need everybody,” they said.
NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills on Wednesday attributed the rapid medical response to a “60-minute meeting” that is held among medical teams and NFL officials before every game to identify the location of medical equipment and nearby medical centers, and establish a chain of command in case of an emergency, among other things.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, speaking publicly for the first time since Hamlin collapsed, said Friday that Hamlin’s improving heath has “lifted not only my spirits but the spirits of the entire league.”
“I am grateful for and humbled by all who played a role as Damar (Hamlin) continues on his road to recovery,” Goodell told reporters. “Extraordinary situations bring out the extraordinary people.”
Buffalo Bills general manager Brandon Beane voiced his appreciation Friday for the support from across the NFL community over the past week.
“This week every team changed their logo on their social media page to pray for Damar. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that. And, yeah we go to battle, but in the end, life is the No. 1 battle, and to see that unity from players, coaches, GMs, owners, fans is unheard of,” he said.
CNN’s David Close, Carma Hassan, Joe Sutton, Kevin Dotson, Stephen Priest, Sara Smart, Sharif Paget, Jamiel Lynch, Jacob Lev, Homero De la Fuente, Jacqueline Howard and Amanda Watts contributed to this report.