Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin woke up on Wednesday night and asked his bedside nurse in writing if his team had beaten the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night.
“Did we win?” Hamlin wrote with a pen on a piece of paper on a clipboard.
“Yes, Damar, you won. You won the game of life,” the nurse responded, according to University of Cincinnati Medical Center doctors.
Hamlin is still in critical condition in the intensive care unit with a breathing tube down his throat. But he has made “remarkable improvement,” his “neurological condition and function is intact,” and he has “held many people’s hands,” Drs. William Knight and Timothy Pritts said Thursday.
And those updates brought smiles to the faces of quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills on the practice field as they prepared for Sunday’s home finale against the Patriots.
“We heard the news this morning, and there was nothing that could be told to us to bring our day down,” Allen said in his first comments since Monday’s traumatic incident. “We’ll be playing with, I guess, less heavy hearts now. A lot of tears of joy.”
In the wake of Hamlin’s “substantial progress,” Buffalo Bills assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington has been revealed as the hero that saved Hamlin’s life by administering CPR on the field.
Hamlin “initially had a pulse on the field and then lost it” while surrounded by physicians and trainers who had rushed to his side “in less than a minute” as part of the NFL-NFLPA emergency action plan, Dr. Knight said in a virtual call.
That “prompt recognition of loss of pulse,” Kellington’s CPR on Hamlin, and subsequent defibrillation brought him back for the ambulance to transport him with oxygen to the hospital.
“Denny is an assistant trainer,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “For an assistant to find himself at that position and needing to take the action he did and step up and take charge … is nothing short of amazing. And the courage that took. You talk about a real leader and a real hero saving Damar’s life. I admire his strength.”
Hamlin’s lungs are still healing. He is still intubated. “He still has significant progress he needs to make,” Pritts said Thursday, but “this marks a really good turning point in his ongoing care.”
And details continued to emerge on how much round-the-clock care and support Hamlin has received.
Bills GM Brandon Beane, head athletic trainer Nate Breske and assistant athletic trainer Tabani Richards have remained at the hospital since Monday, McDermott said.
The UC Medical Center has ICU neurocritical care teams, trauma surgery doctors, a cardiology team, and expert nurses and respiratory therapists dedicated to Hamlin’s recovery.
Allen and McDermott, meanwhile, said they feel prepared to play another game Sunday against New England because Hamlin’s father, Mario, told the team that was what his son would want.
“His message was the team needs to get back to focusing on the goals they set for themselves,” McDermott said of Mario Hamlin’s call with the Bills Wednesday. “Damar would have wanted it that way. That includes our game against New England. And the news today was a big help in getting us back to focus on the game this weekend.”
Allen added: “To know that’s what he wants, that’s what his dad wants. I think guys are excited to get out there.”
The Bills, with their primary focus on Hamlin’s recovery, weren’t dismissing the traumatic nature of this entire event, though.
McDermott said Allen and the Bills’ captains, in fact, were the ones who determined they wouldn’t continue playing Monday’s game before the NFL postponed it.
“Being on that field, you lose sleep,” Allen said, putting himself back in Monday’s moment. “You hurt for your brother. A lot of shared grief. Getting positive updates eases so much of that pain and tension … The scene just replays over and over in your head. It’s hard … to actually describe how I felt and how my teammates felt in that moment.”
Allen said he had some teammates over his house to pray and be together the last few days. They’re going to try their best to persevere.
“I think for every person it’s gonna be a little different,” the quarterback said. “I think putting that helmet back on today was a really good thing for our team just 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 updates we keep getting on Damar lift our spirits and keep pushing us forward.”