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Doctors say Damar Hamlin's neurological condition and function are intact

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin has shown substantial improvement, according to the doctors treating him at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Hamlin went into cardiac arrest on the field Monday night during a game against the Bengals. His doctors say now he is alert.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR health correspondent Allison Aubrey joins us with more. Alert sounds pretty encouraging, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Well, doctors say Damar Hamlin has begun to wake up. He's moving his hands and feet. And this morning, the Buffalo Bills released an update that his breathing tube has been removed, which would mean he's breathing on his own, and he's talking and communicating with people around him. Here's Dr. Timothy Pritts of the University of Cincinnati.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIMOTHY PRITTS: He is beginning to awaken. And it appears that his neurological condition and function is intact. We are very proud to report that, very happy for him and for his family and for the Buffalo Bills organization.

AUBREY: Doctors said yesterday that the first question that he jotted down on paper - this was before the breathing tube was removed, so he was communicating by writing notes - was about the game. He asked, did we win? And the response was, well, Damar, you've won the game of life. So I'm sure that was a very emotional moment. And this is all promising. But he does have a way to go in his recovery.

MARTÍNEZ: So they've removed the breathing tube - that sounds like a big milestone.

AUBREY: Yes. This is exactly what his doctors were hoping for. It's a big turning point. Now, there are things his doctors are still monitoring. One reason he was on the breathing tube was that he demonstrated signs of acute respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS, as it's known, which can occur when fluid gets into the lungs. I spoke to cardiologist Grant Simons of Hackensack University Medical Center about what this could mean for Hamlin's recovery. Now, given his age and fitness, he could likely have an advantage.

GRANT SIMONS: People who have ARDS don't always make a full pulmonary recovery. He might end up with just a little bit of scarring. There's just no way to know right now.

AUBREY: So this is one thing doctors will continue to monitor. Also, doctors still can't say exactly why he collapsed on Monday. So they're still evaluating.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and unlikely a doctor's going to know the answer to any of that quite yet. But people are still wondering, though, I guess, when he's going to start playing football again.

AUBREY: Or if - I mean, this...

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah.

AUBREY: ...May depend in part on whether there was any underlying condition that made him vulnerable to cardiac arrest. And his doctors say tests to determine this are not yet complete. So the question is, was it just that sudden blunt impact to the chest that so many of us watching the game on Monday saw on the field in Cincinnati? Or was it something more? I spoke to cardiologist Greg Marcus at the University of California, San Francisco about this.

GREG MARCUS: It's possible that he has some other cardiac condition that renders him prone to dangerous arrhythmias.

AUBREY: Now, this is what his doctors will need to rule out in the coming days. They'll do ongoing tests and evaluation. But for now, Hamlin's family and teammates say they are just overjoyed by the progress so far. And the Bills are now scheduled to play the New England Patriots on Sunday with the blessing of Hamlin's family. The game against Cincinnati will not be resumed.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR health correspondent Allison Aubrey. Thanks a lot, Allison.

AUBREY: Thank you, A. Good to be here.

(SOUNDBITE OF FM SKYLINE'S "HARLEQUIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Allison Aubrey is a correspondent for NPR News, where her stories can be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered. She's also a contributor to the PBS NewsHour and is one of the hosts of NPR's Life Kit.