Things are looking much brighter for Damar Hamlin.
After a harrowing week of recovery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center after his cardiac arrest during a Jan. 2 game at Paycor Stadium, the Buffalo Bills safety has finally spoken to teammates and coaches, giving them a big dose of relief.
His message? "Love you boys," the Bills said in a Jan. 6 tweet.
Multiple outlets have reported that doctors have removed Hamlin's breathing tube at UC Med Center, where the 24-year-old player has been under watch since going down during a game with the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday. Hamlin went into cardiac arrest after a routine play during the first quarter of the game after colliding with Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins. The Bills' safety collapsed to the ground and underwent nine minutes of CPR on the field in front of teammates and tens of thousands of hushed fans. Players from both teams looked on in shock, openly weeping and praying while emergency crews worked to restart Hamlin's heart. He was transported to UC Medical Center, where he was intubated.
Sports reporters nationwide have been commenting on the news that Hamlin was finally reconnecting with his teammates.
"He has spent the morning, Damar Hamlin has, FaceTiming various teammates – many, many teammates. People he's known from his youth, people he's known growing up, friends," NFL Network personality Ian Rapoport shared on Jan. 6. "He has basically spent the entire morning on FaceTime, and now, my understanding right now, guys, there's a team meeting involving the Buffalo Bills' Damar Hamlin on FaceTime, addressing them for the very first time. This has to be emotional. It sounds amazing."
"McDermott said he gestured to the team, including 'flexing.' Big smile and chuckle from the coach as he relays that story," the NFL Network's Mike Giardi tweeted.
On Jan. 5, UC Medical Center shared a photo of two doctors who led Hamlin's care.
"We cannot express how proud we are of Dr. Pritts and Dr. Knight's leadership and thankful for the entire care team supporting Damar Hamlin. As the region's only Level 1 trauma center, UC Medical Center is uniquely and expertly equipped for moments like this," the UC Health account posted.
A message from DadDamar Hamlin's father had one message for the Buffalo Bills as his son continued recovering from cardiac arrest at University of Cincinnati Medical Center: play the game.
Buffalo Bills head coach Sean McDermott shared Mario Hamlin's words of encouragement on Jan. 5 in his first briefing with the media since Damar Hamlin went down during a game with the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2.
The Bills and UC doctors shared an update Wednesday that Damar had awakened and had even asked about the outcome of the game by writing a note, since he still could not speak at the time. The NFL had first suspended and then postponed Monday's game after a meeting among officials and both teams' coaches. At the time of the pause, Cincinnati led 7-3.
McDermott told media that Hamlin's improvement and his father's words provided the team with the fortitude they need to prepare for the Bills' Jan. 8 game against the New England Patriots.
"When Damar's father spoke to us, really his message was, 'The team needs to get back to focusing on the goals they had set for themselves. Damar would have wanted it that way.' And that includes our game against New England this week," McDermott said. "I think that has helped. And again, the news today [Wednesday] was a huge help to getting us back to focus on the game this weekend."
Bills quarterback Josh Allen joined McDermott for the briefing and frequently had to pause to collect his emotions.
"I'd say from a player's view, hearing Mario talk to us, the words of encouragement that he had for us ... I had the chance to talk to him Monday night, and the only thing he said was, 'My son's going to be alright,'" Allen said.
Mario Hamlin and other family members also have said that the Bengals' Higgins bears no responsibility for Hamlin's injury. Higgins, who was on the receiving end of the tackle that preceded Hamlin's collapse, has received criticism from some industry mouthpieces who claimed that the wide receiver was partially responsible for Hamlin's condition.
Most experts agree that the on-field clash between Higgins and Hamlin was routine, but ESPN analyst and former NFL linebacker Bart Scott claimed that Higgins had lowered his helmet to butt Hamlin with its crown, which is against regulations. Other analysts and industry experts immediately defended Higgins and slammed Scott for his comments.
Earlier this week, sports marketing rep and Hamlin family friend Jordan Rooney said that the family wanted the backlash against Higgins to stop.
“Tee has reached out, Tee has been supportive. It was a freak accident. It was nothing that Tee could control," Rooney told CNN. “You can't support Damar and critique Tee in this situation because Damar’s family is not looking at it that way at all."
Love for CincinnatiDuring the briefing, McDermott thanked a number of people who have been involved with Hamlin's recovering, including the medical teams from both the Bills and the Bengals, other first responders and the staff at UC Medical Center.
On Jan. 5, Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins identified assistant athletic trainer Danny Kellington as the person who had first administered CPR to Hamlin as the Bills safety lay motionless on the field.
"Denny Kellington lets praise this name and person for reviving Our Brother Damar on the field," Dawkins tweeted. "Denny gave CPR and chest compressions to get his Heart Back Beating #DennyKellington And also thank you to all the doctors and Medical professionals that have helped and assisted ❤️❤️3."
McDermott also commended the full Bills organization, field officials, NFL officials and fans from the league's many franchises who have shared support and donated to Hamlin's charity for kids in his hometown of Pittsburgh, which has collected nearly $8 millio as of press time. Bengals fans, in particular, have shown relentless support at the hospital.
"The amount of faith, hope and love that we saw on display over this last three days has been nothing short of amazing," McDermott said.
The coach shared special appreciation for Bengals head coach Zac Taylor and Cincinnati's team for "going above and beyond in handling the situation in the way that they did."
Damar Hamlin FaceTimed into our team meeting today to talk to players and coaches.— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 6, 2023
What he said to the team: “Love you boys.” ❤️ pic.twitter.com/8dorrWNaxt
"As competitive as this league is, Zac quickly recognized the situation. When you can engage with the opposing coach, and Zac and I were on the same page so quickly," McDermott said. "It was amazing how compassionate Zac was, and his players. His captains came down to our locker room and met with our team and captains. Just an amazing show of compassion, empathy, love. It's just so amazing because minutes before that, we were going at each other."
McDermott said that the incident was a blur but attempted to recount the moments on the field and after Hamlin was taken away in the ambulance. "I remember thinking to myself, 'We're gonna need some time,' [with] 'we' being the Bills, at least. We're so conditioned to players taken off the field when injured to going right back to that [game] mode."
"Mental health is real," McDermott said, noting that players need time to process things. "The job description of a coach is not just coaching Xs and Os. It's much more than that. To me, the health and wellbeing of your staff and your players is the No. 1 job of a coach in this situation, so that includes mental health." He added that when the bulk of the team returned to Buffalo on Jan. 10 (some trainers remained in Cincinnati to work with UC doctors and provide the team with updates), they met as a group individually with counselors.
Allen commended McDermott's handling of the situation.
"He was the perfect man in that situation. I can't say enough about what he did, what he said to us in the locker room. Obviously just a dire circumstance that nobody's expecting, nobody's ready for, there's nothing you can train about. You can never put yourself in that situation until it happens.," Allen said. "Being on that field, you lose sleep, you hurt for your brother, a lot of shared grief. But getting updates – positive updates – eases so much pain and that tension that you feel. But coach handled it as perfect as anybody could."
Allen was visibly shaken, pausing frequently to collect his thoughts when answering reporters' questions.
"I don't typically like using emotion to answer questions, but the scene just replays over and over in your head," Allen said. "It's something we'll never forget, but to know that Damar is doing ok... We're extremely happy for him and his family. We just want to love up on him, you know, so the next chance we get – I don't know when it's going to be, [but] if we get to see him anytime soon, it's going to be awesome."
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