Jim Kelly returned to Erie County Medical Center on Tuesday to the room where he toughed out his experience as a cancer patient.
But this time, the former Buffalo Bills quarterback arrived looking healthy and in a mood to celebrate.
Dozens of staff members lined the hallway as Kelly, his wife, Jill, and their daughters, Erin and Camryn, walked into the newly named "Kelly Tough" room, which features sports memorabilia donated by Kelly, including photos and artwork of him in his playing days.
On one wall, facing the bed, a signed plaque offers an inspirational quote: "Make a difference today for someone who is fighting for their tomorrow."
A sign over the bed reads: "Kelly Tough."
The room name should sound familiar. "Kelly Tough" is the title of the book co-written by his wife and daughter, Erin, about his experience with cancer, and it has become a catchphrase associated with Kelly and his family.
"So many people made a difference in my life," said Kelly, as he choked back tears in an address to nurses, doctors and administrators. "The care you receive is important. But also the attitudes you have toward the patients and their family members. They always made me smile when I was here."
"I was surrounded by top doctors," he said, "but also people with heart."
Kelly was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in June 2013, underwent surgery and was declared in remission. But then, in March 2014, the cancer returned. After radiation and chemotherapy, Kelly announced in August 2014 that he was once again cancer-free.
Those were serious, reflective days for Kelly. Now, he could look back with humor.
"Do not reserve this room for me," he joked to the hospital employees. "I am not coming back."
The room is located in the unit where kidney transplant and other patients recuperate. Ben Stafford, a nurse and unit manager, described the room as an inspiration and encouragement to patients. Likewise, Sharon Hanson, chairwoman of the hospital's board of directors, called Kelly an inspiration.
"You persevered, and we persevered along with you," she said.
Thomas Quatroche Jr., president and chief executive officer of ECMC, said Kelly accomplished much on the field, but the new room reflects the time and energy he has brought to his off-the-field work.
"Jim Kelly felt passionate about the caregivers here, especially the nurses," he said.