Updated: January 11, 2023 2:10 PM EST | Originally published: January 3, 2023 3:40 PM EST

Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin was discharged from a hospital in Buffalo, N.Y. on Wednesday, nine days after suffering cardiac arrest on the field during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The 24-year-old surpassed doctor’s expectations and will begin rehabilitation just two days after being transferred from a Cincinnati, Ohio, hospital to New York on Monday.

“We have completed a series of tests and evaluation, and in consultation with the team physicians, we are confident that Damar can be safely discharged to continue his rehabilitation at home and with the Bills,” the Bills tweeted Wednesday morning.

Hamlin spent days in critical condition, but has recovered swiftly since getting his breathing tube removed Jan. 5, even surprising players and coaches by FaceTiming into a team meeting last Friday morning as they prepared for Sunday’s game, according to Bill’s coach Scott McDermott.

“Headed home to Buffalo today with a lot of love on my heart,” Hamlin tweeted on Jan 9. “The same love you all have shown me is the same love that I plan to put back into the world n more.”

Hamlin spent Sunday watching his teammates win over the New England Patriots, sporting “Love for Damar” shirts and even jumping up and down at kickoff, according to his doctors.

The football star’s heartbeat was restarted by medical officials on the field on Jan. 2 after he tackled Bengals receiver Tee Higgins on the field. He was then rushed to the University of Cincinnati Medical Center for more testing and treatment, according to the Bills.

Here’s what to know:

Buffalo Bills players pray for teammate Damar Hamlin during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2, 2023. (Joshua A. Bickel—AP)
Buffalo Bills players pray for teammate Damar Hamlin during the first half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Jan. 2, 2023.
Joshua A. Bickel—AP

Damar Hamlin on the road to recovery

Hamlin underwent a series of cardiac, neurological and vascular tests on Tuesday that were promising. The Bills tweeted on Monday that Hamlin had walked his first lap around the hospital on Friday, and was on a “normal to accelerated trajectory.”

“Did we win?” was one of the first things Hamlin asked his nurse when he woke for the first time on Jan. 4 in a Cincinnati hospital, and could only communicate via writing, according to an update provided by the Bills on Thursday afternoon.

Hamlin was injured as the first quarter of the Jan. 2 game was ending, where he tackled Bengals receiver Tee Higgins, who rammed into Hamlin at high speed. In the collision, Higgins’ helmet appeared to strike Hamlin around the head and chest. By most accounts, it was not an especially noteworthy, or violent hit in the context of the NFL.

“The family doesn’t want any negative backlash towards Tee at all,” Jordon Rooney told NFL Network, explaining that they knew it was a regular football play.

Hamlin rose from the open-field tackle, but collapsed onto his back moments later.

The team’s trainers rushed to help Hamlin and an ambulance arrived within a few minutes to perform CPR before he was taken to the nearby hospital. A cause for the cardiac arrest still remains unknown.

“It’s just heartbreaking seeing him like that,” Hamlin’s uncle, Dorrian Glenn, told CNN the night after the incident.

Glenn and other members of Hamlin’s family were in Pittsburgh watching the game on TV when they saw Hamlin fall. Glenn said Hamlin’s younger brother began crying and screaming immediately. The family waited calmly for Hamlin to recover and play, but after 10 minutes of chest compressions and another half hour passing, everyone was worried.

“We were all in a room crying, we were all in tears. I’m not a crier, but I’ve never cried so hard in my life, just to know my nephew basically died on the field and they brought him back to life,” Glenn said.

Within 90 minutes of his collapse, Hamlin’s vitals were stable and he’d been sedated and intubated, according to a tweet from Rooney.

Rooney tweeted a statement from Hamlin’s family Tuesday morning that thanked the team, healthcare workers and football fans for their support.

“On behalf of our family, we want to express our sincere gratitude for the love and support shown to Damar during this challenging time. We are deeply moved by the prayers, kind words, and donations from fans around the country,” the statement said.

“We also want to acknowledge the dedicated first responders and healthcare professionals at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center who have provided exceptional care to Damar. We feel so blessed to be part of the Buffalo Bills organization and have their support. We also want to thank Coach Taylor and the Bengals for everything they’ve done.

Your generosity and compassion mean the world to use.

Please keep Damar in your prayers. We will release updates as soon as we have them.”

Football fans pray outside the University of Cincinnati Medical Center after Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during the Monday Night Football NFL showdown with the Bengals in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Jan. 2, 2023. (Cara Owsley—USA Today Network/Reuters)
Football fans pray outside the University of Cincinnati Medical Center after Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during the Monday Night Football NFL showdown with the Bengals in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Jan. 2, 2023.
Cara Owsley—USA Today Network/Reuters

How did the NFL respond?

After Hamlin was driven out in an ambulance, officials consulted both teams’ coaches and decided to suspend the game, leaving both teams to file out of the field to the locker room.

With the Bengals leading 7-3, the game was canceled. The game will be a no contest and will not affect the win-loss record of either Buffalo or Cincinnati.

Both the NFL and its players’ association expressed that their priority is Hamlin’s well-being and members from both the Bills and Bengals visited Hamlin in the hospital.

“Last night was supposed to be a great night for the NFL and a great showcase for our hometown. Instead, the human side of our sport became paramount… and in that moment, humanity and love rose to the forefront,” Mike Brown, Cincinnati Bengals’ owner said in a statement on Jan 3.

Fox Sports host Skip Bayless apologized for a controversial Tweet he posted after the incident—which was viewed by more than 140 million users—where he said, “No doubt the NFL is considering postponing the rest of this game – but how? This late in the season, a game of this magnitude is crucial to the regular-season outcome … which suddenly seems so irrelevant.”

Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin leaves the field after an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, on Dec. 1, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. (Greg M. Cooper—AP)
Buffalo Bills defensive back Damar Hamlin leaves the field after an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, on Dec. 1, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass.
Greg M. Cooper—AP

In his follow up Tweet less than an hour later, Bayless clarified saying, “Nothing is more important than that young man’s health. That was the point of my last tweet. I’m sorry if that was misunderstood but his health is all that matters. Again, everything else is irrelevant. I prayed for him & will continue to.”

The NFL is currently investigating the cause of Hamlin’s cardiac arrest. “I know there’s been a lot of theories and a lot of discussion about commotio cordis, and that certainly is possible,” said NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills during a press call.

Commotio cordis is caused by an impact to the chest that causes sudden death. It is most commonly seen in young athletes who participate in sports with projectiles, according to the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute. Even a low impact to the chest can cause serious damage.

Sillis says that commotio cordis would be a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning medics will diagnose it if they do not find another cause. For now, doctors will continue to look into Hamlin’s medical history and try to assess any other issues with his heart.

“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,” Sills added.

The NFL also said it would reassess the protective equipment players use.

Who is Damar Hamlin?

Hailing from the Pittsburgh area, Hamlin was a high school football champion as a teenager and was pursued by several Division 1 football universities. Loyal to the Steel City, he said it was an easy choice when he decided to play for the University of Pittsburgh. Hamlin was named captain in his last season at Pitt. In 2021, he declared for the NFL draft and was chosen by the Bills in the sixth round.

In his second season, the 24-year-old made more appearances on the field this fall when he took over as starting safety. Standing at 6 feet and weighing 200 lbs., Hamlin played in all 15 games Bill games so far this season and has made 91 tackles.

Hamlin is known for his strong love and connection to his hometown, and in 2020 he started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a community toy drive. His initial fundraising goal was $2,500. As of last month, the campaign had just over $2,900 in donations, but since news of Hamlin’s injury spread, the campaign has now raised more than $3.8 million for children’s toys.

“As I embark on my journey to the NFL, I will never forget where I come from and I am committed to using my platform to positively impact the community that raised me,” Hamlin said in the GoFundMe’s description.

With more than 147,000 donors, Bills fans have turned to donations as a way to show their support for Hamlin. “I’m excited for Damar when he sees that because that type of stuff means so much to him,” Rooney said on the Pat McAfee Show.

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Write to Simmone Shah at simmone.shah@time.com.

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