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As Damar Hamlin shows 'substantial improvement,' Buffalo Bills will play Sunday

Buffalo Bills fan Dustin Peters attends a candlelight vigil for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin at University of Cincinnati Medical Center on January 03, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest and is in critical condition following the Bills' Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Jeff Dean
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Buffalo Bills fan Dustin Peters attends a candlelight vigil for Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin at University of Cincinnati Medical Center on January 03, 2023 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest and is in critical condition following the Bills' Monday Night Football game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Updated January 5, 2023 at 10:13 PM ET

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who suffered a cardiac arrest during a Monday game, is awake and has shown "substantial" improvement in the past 24 hours, according to his physicians.

Physicians from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, where the 24-year-old is being treated, said at a Thursday news conference that Hamlin had woken up and appears to have his neurological function intact.

"We had significant concern about him after the injury and after the event that happened on the field, but he has made substantial improvement," UCMC physician Timothy Pritts said.

Hamlin is unable to speak because of his breathing tube but has been able to communicate through writing, the physicians said. He is also able to move his hands, feet and head.

"He expressed surprise that he had not been with the world for a couple days and we talked about the support from the team and really the world for him and his family at the time," UCMC physician William Knight IV said.

Buffalo Bills head coach, Sean McDermott, and quarterback, Josh Allen, also spoke to reporters for the first time since Monday's game.

They said that Hamlin's father, Mario Hamlin, told the team on Wednesday to focus on their upcoming game against the New England Patriots in the regular season finale on Sunday.

"We'll be playing with less heavy hearts now – knowing that today's news – a lot of tears of joy – but to know that's what he wants ... I think guys are excited to get out there," Allen said.

Late Thursday night, the NFL announced that the suspended game between Buffalo and Cincinnati has been canceled.

The league stopped the game in the first quarter Monday night with the Bengals leading 7-3 after Hamlin collapsed.

The game had ramifications on the playoffs in terms of bye weeks, but would not have an effect on which teams qualified for the postseason.

Hamlin continues to be critically ill and undergo intensive care in the ICU, but Knight called the past 24 hours a "good turning point."

Physicians said the next steps will be to get Hamlin out of the ICU and home to his family. They said the best scenario would have his condition back to what it was before the tackle.

After Hamlin's heart stopped beating following what seemed like a routine tackle, first responders resuscitated him by performing CPR and using a defibrillator.

Pritts and Knight called the emergency medical response life-saving, describing the injury as "rare" and "not a run-of-the-mill injury."

Hamlin's father also addressed the Buffalo Bills team on a Zoom call Wednesday to let everyone that Hamlin was making progress, ESPN reported.

The Bills-Bengals game was postponed with six minutes left in the first quarter and will not be resumed this week. The NFL has not yet decided whether to reschedule the match-up at a later date.

Pritts said the first question Hamlin asked when he woke was, "Did we win?" Physicians told him, "You won at the game of life."

Russell Lewis contributed to this story. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Ahn
Ashley Ahn is an intern for the Digital News and Graphics desks. She previously covered the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for CNN's health and medical unit and the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers for CNN's Atlanta News Bureau. She also wrote pieces for USA TODAY and served as the Executive Editor of her college's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. Recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Ahn is pursuing a master's degree in computer science at Columbia University.
Giulia Heyward
Giulia Heyward is a weekend reporter for Digital News, based out of New York. She previously covered education and other national news as a reporting fellow at The New York Times and as the national education reporter at Capital B News. She interned for POLITICO, where she covered criminal justice reform in Florida, and CNN, as a writer for the trends & culture team. Her work has also been published in The Atlantic, HuffPost and The New Republic.