Remarkably improved Bills safety Damar Hamlin’s first concern: ‘Did we win?’

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin warms up before playing against the New York Jets on Dec. 11.
Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, left, warms up before a game against the New York Jets on Dec. 11, 2022. Hamlin collapsed and went into cardiac arrest on the field Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.
(Jeff Lewis / Associated Press)

Damar Hamlin, the Buffalo Bills safety who suffered a near-fatal heart attack during a game Monday night, opened his eyes after two days in intensive care and — still breathing with the help of a ventilator — scribbled a note to his medical team.

“Did we win?”

“Yes, Damar, you won,” one of his doctors told him. “You’ve won the game of life.”

The uplifting moment was recounted in a news conference Thursday by Dr. Timothy Pritts, a trauma surgeon at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where Hamlin was transported after collapsing in the first quarter of a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The NFL announced Thursday that the suspended game has been canceled, and the Bills and Bengals will play one less game than the rest of the league.

Hamlin, 24, whose well-being has captivated the focus and prayers of millions of supporters, reportedly has made remarkable improvements after what looked to be dire circumstances. He has movement in his hands and feet and has been able to communicate through writing.


Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest on the field Monday night in Cincinnati. Here’s our coverage.

Jan. 28, 2023

“While there’s a long way to go, all signs are optimistic, and point to what is likely to be a full neurologic recovery, and we’ve got to get there, but so far things have been very, very positive,” Dr. Thom Mayer, medical director for the NFL Players Assn., said in a separate news conference Thursday.

Experts have said Hamlin’s condition has the hallmarks of commotio cordis, a rare phenomenon in which a sudden blunt impact to the chest can cause heart stoppage and death.

“It is unusual and quite unique,” Mayer said. “The good news is that if that continues to be the presumptive working diagnosis, that is so exceedingly rare that someone who had it would not be at risk for the future. If that indeed turns out to be the bottom line diagnosis, then there’s been 24,000 men who have played this game in the National Football League and this has never happened before, so it would be one in 24,000 instances.”

Hamlin’s father spoke to Bills players Wednesday and relayed his son’s appreciation of his teammates and desire for them to play this weekend. Buffalo plays host to New England on Sunday in a regular-season finale.

“Really his message was, the team needs to get back to focusing on the goals that they had set for themselves,” Bills coach Sean McDermott told reporters Thursday, speaking to the media for the first time since the incident. “Damar would have wanted it that way — and I’m paraphrasing — and that includes our game against New England this week.”

The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners in NFL Week 18. The Bengals will beat the Ravens while Chargers win and Rams lose.

Jan. 6, 2023

Said Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen: “You can’t not honor his request to go out there. Today’s news was a lot of tears of joy, I’ll tell you that. To know that’s what he wants, that’s what his dad wants, I think guys are excited to get out there.”


Allen praised the leadership of McDermott in the chaos and heartbreak of Monday night.

“He was the perfect man to handle that type of situation,” the quarterback said. “Being on the field, you hurt for your brother ... Coach handled it as perfect as anybody could. ... I don’t typically like using emotion to answer questions, but the scene just replays over and over in your head. It’s hard to actually describe how I felt, how my teammates felt, in that moment. It’s something we’ll never forget.”