The NFL took the unprecedented step of suspending play Monday night after Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field in Cincinnati, and — while shocked and weeping teammates watched — was administered CPR, defibrillated and transported by ambulance to a local hospital. The team later said he suffered “a cardiac arrest” following a tackle.
Hamlin, 24, climbed to his feet after making a jarring but otherwise unremarkable tackle of Cincinnati Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, then stumbled and seemed to lose consciousness as he fell backward to the turf. From the various TV angles, the impact of the tackle did not appear to be to Hamlin’s head or neck but to his chest.
Players who saw Hamlin lying face up and motionless frantically called for medical personnel, and an ambulance was brought onto the field.
Players from both teams formed something of a human wall around the scene, many in tears. The stunned crowd anticipating one of the biggest showdowns of the NFL season watched in near silence, the game only nine minutes old, with Cincinnati leading 7-3. Dozens of players from both teams formed a circle and knelt in prayer. The game was halted with six minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
Early Tuesday morning in Buffalo, the team issued the following update via Twitter:
“Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in our game versus the Bengals. His heartbeat was restored on the field and he was transferred to the [University of Cincinnati] Medical Center for further testing and treatment. He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition.”
Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in our game versus the Bengals. His heartbeat was restored on the field and he was transferred to the UC Medical Center for further testing and treatment. He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition.
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 3, 2023
Medical personnel reportedly performed CPR on Hamlin for nine minutes, including the use of an automated external defibrillator. At some point, the player was intubated, clearing the way for him to get oxygen, various media reports said.
“This is where every second or minute counts,” said Dr. Rigved Tadwalkar, a cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, speaking generally about a lack of oxygen to the brain.
“The amount of time that you don’t profuse the brain is a higher possibility of having irreversible brain damage in those first several minutes that we would really want to have a successful resuscitation.”
Tadwalkar, while careful not to attempt to specifically diagnose Hamlin from afar, said the injury appeared to have the hallmarks of catastrophic chest trauma.
“If there appeared to be head trauma, then that would open the door to other things,” he said. “But outside of that, it would likely be one of these things: Either he had some type of undiagnosed condition and this was sort of a routine play that kind of pushed things over the edge, or he was perfectly fine and was unlucky and had the wrong type of injury at the wrong time that caused structural or electrical heart issues.”
Bills cornerback Siran Neal, left, and running back Nyheim Hines console one another after teammate Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during Monday’s game against the Cincinnti Bengals.
(Emilee Chinn/Associated Press)
Buffalo Bills players stand on the field after teammate Damar Hamlin collapsed during Monday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
(Emilee Chinn/Associated Press)
Hamlin’s family was at the game, and according to various reports, his mother rode in the ambulance with her son to University of Cincinnati Medical Center, the only Level 1 trauma hospital in the region. The medical facility is about two miles from the stadium.
The field was cleared, with both teams returning to their locker rooms. Bills coach Sean McDermott and Bengals coach Zac Taylor convened outside the visitors’ locker room and spoke by phone to league officials in New York, and the NFL officially suspended play at 7:01 pm PST, 66 minutes after the injury occurred.
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations and a former player, said on a late-night conference call that he was in constant communication with the coaches, game officials and Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“We just wanted to make sure that we were doing right by Damar,” Vincent said.
NFL executives said on the conference call that they would have no updates Monday night on Hamlin’s condition, nor will they make any immediate decisions about when the game might be finished. There is one week remaining in the regular season, and the Bills-Bengals game is critical in deciding whether one of those teams, or the Kansas City Chiefs, will earn a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
Jeff Miller, the NFL executive vice president who oversees health and safety issues, said every team has an emergency action plan that is rehearsed each season, including an ambulance and airway-management physician on site for every game.
“From an emergency action plan perspective, things worked as designed,” Miller said. “It was terrific collaboration both with the team medical staff and the independent medical providers who are on site there if something happens.”
During the hour before that announcement was made, the reaction on social media was swift and strident, with #CalltheGame trending on Twitter and players around the league voicing their sympathy and support of Hamlin and his family.
“The game is not important. Damar Hamlin’s life is important,” Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman JJ Watt tweeted. “Please be ok. Please.”
Hamlin attended the University of Pittsburgh, and Pitt Football tweeted: “Damar Hamlin is the best of us. We love you, 3. Praying for you.”
Concern about the situation stretched well beyond the NFL. Lakers star LeBron James said: “My thoughts and super prayers go up to the skies above for that kid’s family, for him, for that brotherhood of the NFL and everybody a part of the NFL family.”
Later Monday night, a video circulated of Hamlin happily jogging to a roped-off area on the sideline before a recent game and hugging a woman, possibly his mother, and posing for a selfie with her.
Fans of both teams gathered in vigil outside the hospital. Though the Bills were scheduled to return to Buffalo on a midnight flight, some players opted to stay in Cincinnati to be closer to their fallen teammate.
Those who decided to go back to New York arrived about 2:45 am Tuesday at Buffalo Niagara International Airport amid a heavy police presence, the Associated Press reported. A small group of fans gathered across the street from the players’ parking area near the airport. Police blocked off the road to allow the players to leave.
Times staff writer Dan Woike contributed to this report.
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