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Damar Hamlin is alert and communicating, doctors say

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Doctors treating Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin in Cincinnati say Hamlin is starting to wake up and is communicating with those around him. This comes after his cardiac arrest on the field during Monday Night Football. In an emotional press conference, Bills quarterback Josh Allen responded to the news of his improving health.

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JOSH ALLEN: You know, we're extremely happy for him and his family. You know, we just want to love up on him, you know? So the next chance we get - I don't know when it's going to be. If we get to see him any time soon, it's going to be awesome.

SUMMERS: Two of Hamlin's physicians also held a news conference on Zoom today. It was the first time doctors spoke publicly about Hamlin, whose terrifying on-field collapse was seen by millions of TV viewers and has prompted concern and support throughout the country.

NPR's Tom Goldman joins me now with the latest. Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: So, Tom, you were on the Zoom call. What did Hamlin's doctors have to say in general about his condition now?

GOLDMAN: They said there's been substantial improvement in his condition over the past 24 hours. As you mentioned, as of this morning he began to awaken from heavy sedation, and it appears his neurological function is intact. Doctors on the call said they were very proud to report this and very happy for Hamlin and his family. This is Dr. William Knight.

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WILLIAM KNIGHT: It's been a long and difficult road for the last three days. He has been very sick and has made a fairly remarkable recovery and improvement to the point he is now demonstrating that sign of good neurologic recovery as well as overall clinical improvement.

SUMMERS: Ah, some good early news there, Tom. What else did the doctors say about his initial recovery? Did they give any details about Hamlin's interactions with others as he was beginning to wake up?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, they did. According to Dr. Timothy Pritts, the other University of Cincinnati Medical Center physician on the call, they discussed with Damar Hamlin what happened to him. They can't have a conversation because he's not yet speaking. He's still on a ventilator with a breathing tube. But Dr. Pritts said Hamlin expressed surprise that, in Dr. Pritts' words, he's not been in the world these past two or three days. But Hamlin was able to write on a piece of paper on a clipboard. Here's Dr. Pritts.

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TIMOTHY PRITTS: First question that he wrote when he started to awaken was, did we win? So we know that he's really - that it's not only that the lights are on. We know that he's home, and it appears that all the cylinders are firing within his brain.

GOLDMAN: Now, Juana, Dr. Pritts said one of his colleagues who heard about Hamlin's question about winning the game said Damar won the game of life.

SUMMERS: Wow. You know, Tom, I was watching that game Monday night, as so many people were. Did these doctors have anything more to say about that event? What happened to Hamlin on the field that night?

GOLDMAN: They said after Hamlin collapsed after a tackle of a Cincinnati player, he initially had a pulse on the field but then lost it right while attending physicians were next to him. So he was lucky, in that sense, that those medical people started what Dr. Knight called immediate bystander CPR and then a shock with the defibrillator within minutes. Knight and Pritts couldn't say enough about that initial response and how critical that was to Hamlin's ultimate recovery that's going on right now. Here's Dr. Knight again.

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KNIGHT: And not just saving his life but his neurologic functioning. The reason why we're talking about his recovery of neurologic function is the true critical importance of immediate and good and high-quality CPR and immediate access to defibrillation.

GOLDMAN: Now, the doctors say Hamlin continues to be critically ill. He still has significant progress he needs to make, like breathing on his own without a ventilator. But they say his improvement as of today marks a really good turning point in his ongoing care.

SUMMERS: That is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Thanks for the update, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.