1 of 5 | Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) attempts to make a play against the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday in Cincinnati. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 5 (UPI) -- Damar Hamlin is awake, can move his hands, feet and head, and asked medical personnel who won the Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game, which was halted when he went into cardiac arrest three days ago, doctors said Thursday.
Drs. Timothy Pritts and William Knight IV from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center provided updates about Hamlin's condition during an early-afternoon news conference.
The second-year safety remains in critical condition in the trauma intensive care unit, they said, but the doctors said he has improved appreciably since arriving at the hospital Monday via ambulance from Paycor Stadium.
"There's been substantial improvement in his condition over the past 24 hours," Pritts, the division chief of general surgery, told reporters. "We had significant concern about him after the injury and after the event that happened on the field, but he's making substantial progress.
"As of this morning, he is beginning to awaken, and it appears that his neurological condition and function is intact."
Earlier Thursday, the Bills cited the medical team as saying that Hamlin was making "steady progress."
Pritts said Hamlin came out of sedation Wednesday night and used a pen and paper to ask a bedside nurse about the result of the Bengals-Bills game, which has been postponed indefinitely.
"To paraphrase one of our partners," Pritts said, "when he asked, 'Did we win?' The answer is yes, Damar. You won. You've won the game of life."
Pritts said Hamlin "expressed surprise that he had not been with the world for two days," and there are "many, many steps ahead" in his recovery. He also said Hamlin's inquiry about the result of Monday's game was a sign that "all cylinders are firing within his brain."
The doctors said they would like to see Hamlin's breathing tube removed and show neurological and respiratory improvements before he can be upgraded to stable condition.
Knight said Hamlin's rapid improvement "speaks to his age, incredible fitness and the immediate medical response he received" from on-site medical personnel on the field after his heart stopped.
Both doctors said it was "too early to have the conversation" whether Hamlin could return to football field, but Knight said that would be the goal
"The best [outcome] is getting him back to the way he was at [game time] 8 p.m. Monday, completely neurologically intact, strong, good lung function and no cardiac dysfunction," Knight said.
Bills players and coaches reunited for the first time since his collapse Wednesday in Orchard Park, N.Y., for meetings and a walkthrough-style practice, while friends and family continue to visit Hamlin.
Fellow Bills defensive back Kaiir Elam tweeted Thursday that Hamlin was showing "more signs of improvement." Indianapolis Colts safety Rodney Thomas II, Hamlin's high school teammate and childhood friend, visited Hamlin on Wednesday.
"It calmed me way down," Thomas told CNN. "It made the trip home a lot easier. I could go home and know he's gonna be straight, I got him. We all got him. Everybody's behind him.
"You see what's going on, everybody's behind him. And when he walks out of there and he sees the support he has, it's going to be a real special day."
Sources told NFL Network and ESPN that Mario Hamlin, Hamlin's father, spoke to Bills players during a Zoom call Wednesday and that the team "needed it."
The NFL suspended the Bills' Week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals after Hamlin and wide receiver Tee Higgins collided in the first quarter Monday in Cincinnati.
Hamlin stood up and then collapsed when his heart stopped. On-site medical professionals administered CPR and resuscitated him, and he was then taken by ambulance and taken to the hospital.
The emotional scene featured the tear-filled faces of Bills and Bengals players as they watched their colleague driven out of Paycor Stadium. A record viewership audience also tuned in for the dramatic sequence.
Nielson told CNN that 23,788,000 viewers watched ABC, ESPN and ESPN2 from 8:30 to 10:09 p.m. EST, resulting in the most-watched Monday Night Football game since ESPN picked up the NFL series in 2006.
The resumption of that game remains in limbo. The NFL announced Tuesday that the Bills-Bengals contest, suspended in the first quarter with the Bengals leading 7-3, will not resume this week.
The league also said this week that the Bengals' Week 18 game against the Baltimore Ravens will be played at 1 p.m. EST Sunday in Cincinnati. The Bills' game against the New England Patriots also remains scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff Sunday in Orchard Park.
A league source told UPI on Thursday afternoon that "no decision" had been made about resuming Bengals-Bills game, and that "all options" are being considered. Those could include cancellation, playing the game after the final week of the season, delaying the playoffs or eliminating the pre-Super Bowl bye week.
On Wednesday, the Bills made a transaction linked to Hamlin, signing safety Jared Mayden off the New York Jets practice squad. They released cornerback Xavier Rhodes in a corresponding move.
Amid the uncertainty of Hamlin's hospitalization, widespread support for the Bills safety continues to bring fans and other well-wishers together.
Stadiums around the sports world have been lit up in the Bills' red, white and blue colors. Each NFL team also changed its Twitter avatar to a photo that reads "Pray for Damar," and includes his No. 3.
Hamlin's jersey sales also have skyrocketed, with his among the most-popular ones sold in the last week at Fanatics. That official NFL retailer, the NFL and the players association announced Tuesday that all proceeds will be donated to the Chasing M's Foundation Community Toy Drive, a fundraiser Hamlin organized.
The fundraiser, which started with a goal of $2,500, eclipsed $7 million in donations Thursday morning. NFL team owners, fellow football players and other athletes are among the top donors.
Hamlin's Chasing M's clothing brand store also sold out of merchandise amid his hospitalization.
President Joe Biden also told reporters Wednesday that he spoke "at length" with Hamlin's parents about the injury. Biden did not elaborate about that conversation, but did say that the dangers of football need to be acknowledged when he was asked if the NFL is getting too dangerous.
"I think working like hell on the helmets and the concussion protocols, that all makes a lot of sense," Biden said. "But it is dangerous. We've got to just acknowledge it."
The NFL's Week 18 schedule will start when the Las Vegas Raiders host the Kansas City Chiefs at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in Las Vegas.
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) tackles the Cincinnati Bengals' Tee Higgins (85) during the first quarter of Monday Night Football at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati on January 2. Hamlin was injured on the play, suffering cardiac arrest. Photo by John Sommers II/UPI | License Photo