Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin spoke to his teammates after his breathing tube was removed overnight on Thursday, capping an extraordinary recovery process following his cardiac arrest earlier this week.
“Per the physicians at UCMC [University of Cincinnati Medical Centre], Damar’s breathing tube was removed overnight. He continues to progress remarkably in his recovery,” the Bills said on Thursday.
“His neurologic function remains intact and he has been able to talk to his family and care team.”
The Bills said the NFL player FaceTimed with his teammates and coaches, saying: “I love you guys.”
Physicians on Wednesday said Hamlin was making significant improvement in his recovery, but that it was too soon to comment on his long-term health.
Hamlin had begun to awaken on Wednesday evening and was holding hands with his family.
“For Damar to be awake and his mum to be able to share that with him is incredible,” said Bills head coach Sean McDermott.
The next immediate steps in Hamlin's recovery will be to breathe completely on his own and then prepare to be discharged from the hospital, physicians said.
“He still has significant progress he needs to make, but this marks a really good turning point in his continuing care,” said Dr Timothy Pritts, division chief of general surgery.
Hamlin has recovered quickly after he suffered cardiac arrest during the Bills' Week 17 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The 2021 sixth-round draft pick spent the first two nights in hospital sedated and on a ventilator after the incident.
Doctors credited the immediate medical response Hamlin received on the field for saving his life.
Meanwhile, the NFL said the contest between the Bills and Bengals would be cancelled.
With the postseason a week away, the NFL noted several solutions to playoff scenarios should the cancellation of the game create “potential competitive inequalities”.
“As we considered the football schedule, our principles have been to limit disruption across the league and minimise competitive inequalities,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said.
Among these would be to play the AFC Championship Game at a neutral site and determine the host site for a potential wild-card game via coin toss.