Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin remained in critical condition at a Cincinnati hospital Tuesday while the National Football League weighed how to resume play after his extraordinary collapse from cardiac arrest cast a pall over the end of the regular season.
Hamlin’s family released a statement midday Tuesday that expressed “sincere gratitude” for public support and to the health care professionals who treated him. A second-year player, the 24-year-old Hamlin remained in the intensive care unit of the University of Cincinnati Medical Center after collapsing on the field following a hit to the chest from Bengals receiver Tee Higgins during the first quarter of Monday night’s game.
Hamlin’s uncle, Dorrian Glenn, told CNN on Tuesday that Hamlin had to be resuscitated twice.
“His heart had went out so they had to resuscitate him twice. They resuscitated him on the field before they brought him to the hospital, and then they resuscitated him a second time when they got him to the hospital,” Glenn said.
“They sedated him just to give a better chance for him to just continue to heal better. We are just taking it day by day.
So far, the NFL has only said the Bills-Bengals game will not be resumed this week, per a memo sent Tuesday by commissioner Roger Goodell. The game between the 12-3 Bills and 11-4 Bengals had major implications for the playoffs, as they are each battling for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. With only one week remaining in the regular season, the Bills-Bengals game also has consequences for other teams trying to make the playoffs, including the Patriots.
The Patriots are scheduled to play the Bills Sunday at 1 p.m. in Orchard Park, N.Y., and Goodell’s memo stated that this weekend’s games will proceed on schedule for now.
“No decision has been made regarding the possible resumption of the game at a later date and we have not announced any changes to this weekend’s schedule,” Goodell wrote. “We will promptly advise all clubs of any decisions that are made regarding these matters.”
Hamlin’s injury cast a dark cloud over the league on Tuesday, which for most teams is a scheduled off day for players. Several teams, including the Patriots, canceled media availabilities with coaches. The NFL provided mental health services for players struggling with the news. All 32 teams changed their Twitter handles to a graphic reading, “Pray for Damar.” The Pro Football Hall of Fame delayed the announcement of the finalists for this year’s class until Wednesday.
In Buffalo, fans gathered at Highmark Stadium for a vigil organized by Jill Kelly, wife of the Hall of Fame quarterback for the Bills, Jim Kelly. In Pittsburgh, where Hamlin grew up and played for the University of Pittsburgh, the news hit especially hard.
“I’ve known that guy probably since he was about 12,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “I’ve just got a lot of respect and love for him as a human being, his commitment to the pursuit of his goals and dreams of doing what he is right now, which is playing in the NFL. To watch him make personal decisions, and make that a realization, it’s just an honor to get to know young people like that.”
The fact that Hamlin is alive was the product of an immediate response by both the Bengals’ and Bills’ medical personnel under the NFL’s “emergency action plan,” which prepared the teams for a situation that hadn’t occurred in the NFL since 1971, when the Lions’ Chuck Hughes suffered a cardiac incident on the field and was later pronounced dead.
Medical personnel provided CPR on the field for Hamlin for approximately nine minutes before loading him into an ambulance.
“From an emergency action plan perspective, things worked as designed,” said NFL executive vice president Jeff Miller. “There was terrific collaboration both with the team medical staff and independent medical providers who are there if something happened.”
Hamlin’s condition appeared to be a case of “commotio cordis,” which was deemed “the second-most common cause of sudden death in athletes, according to a research study published in the medical journal Sports Health by two Tufts University physicians. Early defibrillation of the patient “is critical for survival,” the doctors wrote: Resuscitation of the heart within three minutes has a survival rate of about 25 percent; beyond three minutes, the survival rate drops to just 3 percent.
“Other than a hospital, there is probably no better place for this to happen than an NFL field,” Dr. David Chao, the former head physician of the Chargers football team, said in an interview. “When Hamlin went down, the Bills’ staff was there within seconds. Very quickly after that, you could see Bengals head trainer Matt Summers appear in the picture. The Buffalo team physicians and both athletic trainers were undoubtedly there to take a turn at CPR, because CPR is exhausting. Kudos to the Bills and Bengals for acting quickly and running a tight ship.”
All NFL games average 30 medical personnel on hand. Each stadium is equipped with an AED defibrillator, and the home team provides emergency medical personnel at all games — a trauma surgeon, anesthesiologist, airway management physician, and others. After having his heartbeat restored, Hamlin was sent to a Level 1 trauma hospital about 4 miles from the stadium.
In 1998, NHL defenseman Chris Pronger took a puck off the chest, took two strides, and collapsed, needing to be resuscitated. Pronger tweeted on Tuesday that he was cleared to play four days later after wearing a heart monitor for 24 hours and a battery of tests. In 1995, Quincy High hockey player Matthew Messing wasn’t as fortunate, dying after taking a body check to the chest.
One bright spot was the overwhelming support given to Hamlin’s charity, “The Chasing M’s Foundation Community Toy Drive.” The GoFundMe page started with a $2,500 goal, and received nearly $5 million in donations in the 24 hours after the injury. Several NFL players appeared to donate to the cause, including Tom Brady and Patriots Devin McCourty, Lawrence Guy, Brian Hoyer, and Myles Bryant.
Under NFL rules, Goodell has broad latitude to decide whether and how to continue the game. Rule 17.11 says an interrupted game would resume from the same point. The NFL has a bye week in between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl on Feb. 12, giving the league some latitude to push other games back in order to finish Bengals-Bills.
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Ben Volin can be reached at email@example.com.