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Damar Hamlin Awake and Holding Hands with Family

Damar Hamlin
Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

Hamlin has shown "remarkable improvement," his team said Thursday morning.

(CNN) — [Breaking news update, published at 11 a.m. ET]

Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin is awake and has been holding hands with family in the hospital following the 24-year-old's in-game cardiac arrest Monday, his agent Rob Butler told CNN on Thursday.

Hamlin has shown "remarkable improvement," his team said Thursday morning.

"Per the physicians caring for Damar Hamlin at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Damar has shown remarkable improvement over the past 24 hours," the Bills tweeted. "While still critically ill, he has demonstrated that he appears to be neurologically intact. His lungs continue to heal and he is making steady progress.

"We are grateful for the love and support we have received."

"Damar has made substantial improvement overnight," added Agency 1 Sports, which represents the Bills safety, in its own tweet.

[Original story, published at 10:29 a.m. ET]

As Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin remains in critical condition after suffering an in-game cardiac arrest, his childhood friend and fellow NFL player says there is "no doubt in my mind" Hamlin will recover.

Indianapolis Colts safety Rodney Thomas II drove directly to the Cincinnati hospital where his 24-year-old friend lay sedated following Hamlin's on-field collapse early in Monday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.


"I know he could hear me," Thomas told reporters Wednesday, adding he held Hamlin's hand. "Even if he couldn't hear me, it didn't matter. I said what I had to say."

"Just basically [I said] that I love him, and I've got his back, and I'll see him in a little bit," Thomas added Thursday on "CNN This Morning."

Hamlin has shown "signs of improvement" as he remains under intensive care at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, his team said Wednesday, as uneasy supporters across the nation hang on updates of his condition and NFL players contemplate an emotional return to the field this weekend.

The Bills-Bengals game, initially regarded as a match with important playoff implications, was postponed after Hamlin's collapse — a rare move in a league where inherently violent play usually resumes after on-field injuries. The NFL has yet to announce whether it will make up that contest — halted with the Bengals leading 7-3 — even as all 32 teams prepare for their final scheduled regular-season games this Saturday and Sunday.

After seeing what happened to Hamlin, some players are openly assessing their readiness to play this weekend. It is still unclear what caused Hamlin's cardiac arrest, and the league will investigate what could have led to it, NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills said Wednesday.

Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow "probably wants to play" Sunday's Bengals-Ravens game, but there may be others who don't, he told reporters Wednesday.

"I'm sure if you polled the locker room, there'd be mixed votes on that," Burrow said. "Personally, I think playing is going to be tough ... I think getting back to as normal as you can as fast as you can is personally how I kind of deal with these kinds of things. But ... everyone has a different way of dealing with it."

The Bills, scheduled to host the Patriots on Sunday, returned to work Wednesday with meetings and are set to hold their first practice of the week Thursday. Players felt encouraged and emotional when Hamlin's father, Mario Hamlin, did a Zoom call with the team Wednesday and said his son is making progress, a source in the Bills organization told CNN on Thursday.

Thomas, whose Colts host the Texans on Sunday, said each team needs to "trust that everybody would just make the best decision moving forward, whether that's playing, whether that's not playing."

"Player-wise ... just the world in general, we're all just one heartbeat right now ... all waiting for Damar just to get healthy," Thomas told CNN Thursday.

Hamlin and Thomas, who became close friends as high school teammates in Pittsburgh, spoke daily and had talked Monday before Hamlin's collapse. Seeing his friend soon after the in-game incident "calmed me way down," Thomas said Wednesday. "It made the trip home a lot easier. I could go home and know he's gonna be straight. I got him. We all got him. Everybody's behind him."

Since his hospitalization, Hamlin has gotten a nationwide outpouring of support from fans and players across pro sports, including more than $7 million donated to his foundation's toy drive GoFundMe as of Thursday morning. Several athletes have donned Hamlin's No. 3 or his jersey while teams have honored him through Jumbotron messages and light displays at their stadiums.

NFL medical chief talks commotio cordis theories

Hamlin collapsed shortly after a collision in which a Bengals receiver tried to power past Hamlin, who'd approached for a tackle, with about six minutes remaining in the first quarter of Monday's game. Hamlin still twisted the receiver to the ground and stood up — but within seconds fell and lay motionless.

His heartbeat was restored on the field, the Bills have said, before he was ferried from the stadium in an ambulance while stunned and visibly emotional players and fans looked on. Hamlin is on a ventilator and was "flipped over on his stomach" in the hospital to help relieve some of the strain on his lungs, his uncle Dorrian Glenn told CNN on Tuesday.

Any time a player is evacuated from the field, the NFL and its medical experts perform a detailed review of what happened, Sills explained on a call Wednesday with reporters. They also examine the role protective equipment may have played, he said.

In some cases, the medical team will not be able to determine what caused the problem, Sills said.

The doctor addressed theories that the cardiac arrest could have been caused by commotio cordis, which occurs when severe trauma to the chest disrupts the heart's electrical charge, causing dangerous fibrillations.

"You have to have the right type of blow hitting at the right spot on the chest with the right amount of force at just the right time in that cardiac cycle. So, a lot of things have to line up for that to happen," he said, emphasizing that while it is possible, investigators will consider all options.

Sills attributed the "transformational response" of medical personnel when Hamlin collapsed to the "60-minute meeting" that is held among medical teams and NFL officials before every game. During the meeting, teams identify the location of medical equipment and nearby medical centers, and establish a chain of command in case of an emergency, including cardiac arrest, among other things.

Shock still weighing heavily on the Bills

Hamlin's collapse is the latest in a string of recent tragedies to have struck the community of Buffalo and its beloved football team, including a racist mass shooting and a historic blizzard that left at least 41 people dead in Erie County, New York.

A high-ranking official within the Bills organization told CNN's Coy Wire that they broke down in tears after day and night-long meetings on Tuesday, sobbing because of the heaviness of the situation.

The series of difficult blows to Buffalo have emotionally piled up within the organization, the source said, adding that through it all, the team has tried to be a source of strength for the city.

The performance of Buffalo Sabres hockey forward Tage Thompson on Tuesday night was a "glimmer of hope" at a time when the team needs inspiration, the source said.

Hamlin's jersey No. 3, was a recurring motif throughout the game, played on January 3. Thompson's three goals during overtime brought the Sabres a win. It was Thompson's third hat trick of the season and his third goal came fortuitously in the third minute of overtime.

The Sabres also wore "Love for 3" T-shirts honoring Hamlin before the game.

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