The news Thursday that Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin had regained consciousness was followed by news on Friday that the player had his breathing tube removed and spoke to teammates.
The encouraging signs indicate that he will survive the incident without serious injury to his mental faculties, doctors said.
Doctors and coaches are praising the efforts of the Bills medical team for rapidly assessing the injury to Hamlin seconds after the player fell to the ground early in the Bills-Bengals Monday Night Football contest. Not only did the efforts save his life, but they were also critical in preventing further damage.
Bills assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington was one of the first people to arrive at the side of Hamlin after he absorbed a hit to the chest from Bengals receiver Tee Higgins while making a tackle. Hamlin had risen from the ground, then immediately toppled backward, leading medical staff on the sidelines to act immediately.
Kellington administered CPR and assisted Hamlin until more advanced care was available.
“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,” head coach Sean McDermott said. “And the courage that took — you talk about a real leader, a real hero in saving Damar’s life and just admire his strength.”
Kellington has been a member of the Bills staff since 2017, and since news broke of his actions on the field, he has instantly become a celebrity. Kellington’s actions in immediately beginning CPR and chest compressions are being hailed by the medical community treating Hamlin as “absolutely vital” in saving his life and preventing brain damage.
People in a state of cardiac arrest are experiencing a heart stoppage. Without blood pumping from the heart, the brain can quickly become irreparably damaged, potentially leading to various ailments and even death.
Hamlin has so far demonstrated no loss of function, and doctors are hopeful that the incident did not cause permanent brain damage.
Hamlin remains in critical care at the Cincinnati Medical Center, where he was taken by ambulance following the injury. On Thursday, the Bills stated that doctors in his care informed the family and the team that Hamlin “continues to progress remarkably in his recovery.”
On Friday, Hamlin had the breathing tube removed that had been keeping him alive since Monday evening and got a brief opportunity to speak with teammates. McDermott described the interaction by saying it would “be hard to do it justice with words.”
Medical teams such as the one the Bills employ train regularly throughout the season to handle a wide variety of injuries, even those that are exceedingly rare, such as the injury sustained by Hamlin on Monday. Only one player has ever died on the football field.
In 1971, the Detroit Lions’ Chuck Hughes suffered a heart attack on-field after a blood clot dislodged following a 32-yard reception and tackle. Efforts — primitive as they were at that time — were unsuccessful, and Hughes passed.
Brandon Hughes, the son of Chuck Hughes, said his family could help the Hamlin family as they work through the grief and trauma of Monday night.
“I would be more than happy to speak with them,” he said. “We certainly understand what they’re going through.”