By JOHN WAWROW and CAROLYN THOMPSON Associated Press
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Bills safety Damar Hamlin said he returned to Buffalo on Monday “with a lot of love on my heart” to continue his recovery in a hospital there, a week after going into cardiac arrest and having to be resuscitated on the field during a game in Cincinnati.
Hamlin was discharged from the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in the morning and flown to western New York. He was listed in stable condition at Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute.
“I can confirm that he is doing well. And this is the beginning of the next stage of his recovery,” said Dr. William Knight, one of his doctors in Cincinnati.
Doctors said Hamlin has been walking since having a breathing tube removed on Friday, eating regular food and undergoing therapy. They said he was on a normal or even accelerated trajectory in his recovery from cardiac arrest, which is considered a life-threatening event, and that normal recovery can be measured from weeks to months.
“We continue to be ecstatic about his recovery,” Dr. Timothy Pritts said.
Hamlin’s return comes a day after he cheered on the Bills from his hospital bed during their regular season-ending 35-23 win over the New England Patriots. The game proved to be a cathartic outpouring of support for the Bills and Hamlin.
“Headed home to Buffalo today with a lot of love on my heart,” Hamlin said in a tweet. “Watching the world come together around me on Sunday was truly an amazing feeling.”
Hamlin was so excited watching teammate Nyheim Hines return the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown that “he jumped up and down, got out of his chair, set every alarm off in the ICU in the process,” Pritts said with a laugh. “But he was fine. It was just appropriate reaction to very exciting play.”
Pritts said it was still premature to comment on the potential cause of Hamlin’s cardiac arrest and that more testing would be done.
“The goal of the transfer …. is to get him closer to home for further evaluation, recovery and eventually discharge and rehabilitation,” Buffalo General Medical Center/Gates Vascular Institute said in a news release.
The Bills wore No. 3 Hamlin patches on their jerseys Sunday and honored their teammate by raising three fingers in the closing minutes, while tight end Dawson Knox celebrated his touchdown by forming his hands into the shape of a heart. Fans joined in, with many holding up red heart and No. 3 signs.
“The same love you all have shown me is the same love that I plan to put back into the world n more,” Hamlin tweeted Monday.
Bills coach Sean McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane briefly saw Hamlin after he landed in Buffalo.
“We’re happy to have him back.” McDermott told reporters on a conference call. “He’s a little bit tired, but it was good to get to see him in person for the first time in a while.”
The 24-year-old from the Pittsburgh area has made significant progress in his recovery since spending his first two days at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center under sedation and breathing through a ventilator.
He was awakened on Wednesday night and was eventually able to grip people’s hands. By Friday, Hamlin was able to breathe on his own and even addressed the team by videoconference, telling the Bills, “Love you boys.”
The last update from doctors came on Saturday, when they described Hamlin’s neurological function as “excellent,” though he remained listed in critical condition.
Pritts said doctors were able to upgrade his condition from critical on Monday, clearing the way for the flight home.
“We want to ensure that each organ system is stable to improving and that he needs a minimal amount of assistance such that he does not need intensive nursing,” Pritts said. “We have some awesome rock star nurses who’ve been with him from the beginning, but he no longer needs that level of nursing care and no longer needs intensive respiratory therapy from our respiratory care practitioners and is able to then move to a setting where he would have less intensive care.”
A doctor accompanied Hamlin to the airport.
Doctors declined to speculate about whether Hamlin would be able to attend a game in person. By beating New England, the Bills (13-3) clinched home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Buffalo is preparing to host division rival Miami in a wild-card playoff matchup on Sunday.
“Right now it’s just a young man recovering from a very serious illness, and we think that he will recover well from this,” Pritts said. “He has a great positive attitude.”
Hamlin’s heart stopped on Monday night after making what appeared to be a routine tackle in the first quarter against the Bengals. The game was initially suspended before officially being canceled later in the week.
News of Hamlin’s discharge from the hospital in Cincinnati was greeted with enthusiasm.
“That’s unbelievable,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said.
“I mean, just think about it — that was one week, not even a week ago. There’s no one in this room that would have expected he’d be in Buffalo,” he added. “God is great. He works miracles. This is certainly a miracle, there’s no question. … And just an amazing moment for Damar.”
AP Sports Writer Mitch Stacy in Cincinnati contributed to this report.