On Thursday, two physicians from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center — William Knight IV, MD, who is a Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, and Timothy Pritts, MD (Professor in the Department of Surgery and Division Chief of General Surgery) held a virtual press conference with members of local and national media to update everybody on the condition of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who suffered a cardiac event on the field at Cincinnati’s Paycor Stadium.
Perhaps the most remarkable quote came when the doctors revealed that Hamlin was awake, had what appeared to be full neurological function, and asked his care team who won the game.
“We would like to share that there has been substantial improvement over the past 24 hours,” the doctors said. “As of this morning, he is beginning to awaken and it appears this his neurological condition and function is intact.”
The doctors said that since Hamlin still has a breathing tube, he is unable to communicate by speaking — he has been able to nod his head yes and no, and is able to ask and answer questions in writing.
President Joe Biden revealed that he spoke with Hamlin’s family on Wednesday.
Perhaps most importantly, the doctors said that they could not possibly praise the on-field actions of the Buffalo Bills’ care team and the NFL’s care team when it came to doing everything possible to save Hamlin’s life, and to save him from a more unfortunate result.
Specifically, Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer pointed out the efforts of Bills assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington in coordinating care at a time when seconds don’t just count — they can literally save lives.
“Damar Hamlin should be looked at as the model by sports teams for health care of athletes,” Dr. Knight concluded.
Regarding Hamlin’s timeline, Drs. Knight and Pritts said that the next step is to get Hamlin off the breathing tube and breathing on his own. Once that happens, they will be able to make a more sure assessment of his longer-term recovery prognosis. There are several steps in that process, and several steps before doctors will be able to diagnose what exactly happened to Hamlin on the field.
On Wednesday, Seattle Seahawks team physician Dr. Jon Drezner, who is also the Director of the Center for Sports Cardiology at the University of Washington, spoke in detail about how emergency processes are supposed to work on an NFL field.
There’s lots of preparations that all of the teams throughout the NFL take. I’ve been really impressed with the emergency action plans that are required by the league. As a team, this is something that we prepare for, and we plan for. No one wants an emergency to happen on the field. There’s a variety of different on-field emergencies that can occur, and sudden cardiac arrest is one of them that we do prepare for, and we hope never happens.
Every team in the league is required to have a written emergency action plan. Every team in the league is required to practice and rehearse their response to an on-field emergency, which includes different scenarios. It includes players going down prone, going down supine, face up, with different equipment and potentially with different medical emergencies.
So, we practice this here at the facility every year before the season starts. We practice at the stadium with all emergency personnel there. We have our paramedic team there. We have our emergency room physicians and our airway management physicians who are there to help us and assist in case of an emergency. So, we’re all practicing and communicating what might happen if we need to do this in real time. In addition, before every game, we meet with the visiting team, or if we’re on the road with the home team, with all of the personnel who are there on the sidelines.
So, as you know, there’s a large group of medical personnel that take care of the athletes during game time. We have our incredible athletic training staff, team physicians, our airway physicians. We have neurotrauma consultants, et cetera. Everyone is meeting before the game, that 60-minute medical meeting, to talk about what might happen and we identify and we have that face-to-face time. For me personally, it’s important to know who I’m going to be working with in case there is an emergency, so getting to know who that airway management physician is on the road, shaking their hands, seeing them face-to-face, knowing who I’m going to call for help is important. We do that before every game.
Even though the Seahawks and the league have these incredible resources where we want to make safety our first priority and that really is the safest environment to play in. Sudden cardiac arrest can still happen at any level. They can still happen in youth, in school sports, and out in the community with less resources. Even though there’s less resources, survival is still possible. You need to recognize SCA (sudden cardiac arrest) and have defibrillators available. If you are able to recognize SCA and you have defibrillators in our schools, survival rates can be quite high. So, this is not a unique circumstance to the NFL or to the Seahawks to be prepared. I think being prepared is a responsibility of all the communities that sponsor organized sports.
Fortunately, everyone was entirely prepared and did incredible, complete, correct, and quick work to give Damar Hamlin the best possible outcome.