Damar Hamlin’s rapid recovery: Medical experts weigh in

By Jules Murtha | Fact-checked by MDLinx staff
Published January 12, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Medical experts are impressed by the progress Damar Hamlin has made since his mid-game cardiac arrest but feel it may be too early to arrive at a definitive prognosis.

  • According to two cardiologists, the next steps in Hamlin’s recovery may include a diagnostic workup, cardiac catheterization, cardiac MRI, and other tests to determine if he will require an implanted defibrillator. They also anticipated testing to see if he had a genetic predisposition to cardiac issues.

  • If Hamlin needs a defibrillator, that could affect his future in the NFL. The medical experts also suggested that Hamlin may want to seek help for the psychological impact of sudden cardiac arrest.

While news of Damar Hamlin’s hospital release has prompted optimism that he will make a full recovery after his January 2 cardiac arrest, medical experts believe there’s still reason to exercise caution regarding the Buffalo Bill safety’s future.

As fans speculate as to if Hamlin will return to the field, physicians expect extensive testing and evaluation to be conducted before that could even be considered.

Determining treatment

To get a better look at what's next for Hamlin, MDLinx spoke with two of its medical advisors, Vincent Carr, DO, FACC, FACP, CHCQM-PHYADV, and James Beckerman, MD, FACC.

After doctors removed his endotracheal tube, Hamlin was released from a Cincinnati, OH, hospital and moved to a facility in Buffalo, NY, which he was released from on January 11 to continue rehab efforts at home.

“Mr. Hamlin's ability to breathe on his own, communicate, and experience intact neurological function is incredibly positive news,” Dr. Beckerman commented when Hamlin was still in the Cincinnati hospital. “He is lucky to have been resuscitated by an excellent team of professionals and to have had access to early CPR and defibrillation.”

The course of Hamlin’s treatment, however, will depend on what led to his cardiac arrest in the first place. Although some cardiologists and sports medicine doctors have speculated that commotio cordis is a possible cause for Hamlin’s cardiac arrest, his doctors have yet to confirm that’s what occurred.

“His medical team will be working to identify any potential causes of his sudden cardiac arrest other than commotio cordis, as this may impact his treatment,” Dr. Beckerman said.

An underlying cause is just one missing piece in the larger picture of Hamlin’s cardiac arrest and recovery. Given the improvements in his condition in the week after the incident, what can be expected for Hamlin moving forward?

Related: False theories about Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest prompt need for medical facts

Hamlin to be evaluated

Ideally, Hamlin would soon join his teammates in another epic entrance onto the field at their next game. And although clinicians are impressed by his progress, it may be too early to arrive at a definitive prognosis.

"Damar Hamlin’s projected recovery will ultimately depend on whether he is found to have a genetic predisposition to cardiac arrest or sustained cardiac or vascular damage."


“If he does not, and his neurological evaluation shows no damage from his period of limited blood flow to the brain, his recovery may be short, with a full return to his football career,” Dr. Carr said.

Dr. Beckerman echoed those sentiments, also calling attention to the fact that the “psychological impact of sudden cardiac arrest should never be underestimated.”

Related: These ‘facts’ surrounding Damar Hamlin’s cardiac arrest are trending—and wrong

Next steps in recovery

As far as future milestones go, Dr. Carr suspected that Hamlin will be completing a diagnostic workup, cardiac catheterization, cardiac MRI, and potential electrophysiologic studies to determine whether ventricular arrhythmia can be induced.

Further testing may also reveal if Hamlin will require an implanted defibrillator, which could determine his future in the NFL.

It certainly appears as if Hamlin is recovering well. And in Dr. Beckerman’s view, while his future participation in football remains uncertain, it is looking as if he will be able to be discharged from the hospital soon.

“May we all wish that Damar Hamlin will be able to return to football,” Dr. Carr said. “We all must be prepared to support him and every player who has been injured playing competitive football, hockey, basketball, baseball, etc., as they have all contributed to the excitement of the games enjoyed by many.”

What this means for you

Despite the improvements in Damar Hamlin’s condition, medical experts believe he should complete a diagnostic workup and further testing to rule out any signs of sustained cardiac or neurological damage. Physicians can use this high-profile story as a springboard to discuss cardiac-related issues and lifestyle changes with patients.

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