(Zachary Kaufman/The Columbian)
Tyler Burton has always been a believer. But now that his own life is looking more and more like a miracle, he has no doubt as to why he's alive today.
"I believe, no question, 'He' saved my life," Burton said. "I would say the doctors saved my life, but 'He' saved my life."
God heard the thousands of prayers sent up by friends, family members and the community after Burton was assaulted Oct. 28 in Chico, Calif. God responded, bringing Burton back from the edge of death. And now, God is by his side every day as the 21-year-old pushes his body to new limits.
"Keep praying," Burton said. "It works. It worked for me."
Three months ago, doctors didn't have much hope.
Burton received a severe, traumatic brain injury when he was punched in the face. Doctors told Burton's parents — his mother, Kimberly Hash, her husband, Roddy Hash, and his father, Roger Burton — that the college football player would live the rest of his life in a vegetative state.
And that was the best-case scenario.
"He was dying for a month, basically," Roddy Hash said. "There was never good news."
Roddy Hash pleaded with God. Either take Burton or take care of him. Nothing in between.
The family prepared to donate Burton's organs. They wanted some good to come from their loss. But then, Burton started making improvements. He gave two thumbs up. He recognized family members.
He's continued to improve every day since.
"Every day was some sort of miracle," Roddy Hash said.
Burton flew back to his hometown in late December and has been a patient at PeaceHealth Southwest Washington Medical Center's inpatient rehabilitation center.
"He's come a long way, to say the least," said Dr. Jaime Nicacio, the physician caring for Burton. "His prognosis, I would say, is good."
"He's the comeback kid," Nicacio added.
Every day, Burton spends at least three hours in physical therapy. He walks a lot, maneuvering around rows of cones. Then, slowly climbing up and down a small staircase.
Burton has approached his rehabilitation as an athlete in training, something familiar to Burton.
Burton played baseball as a kid. He played football at Mountain View High School and was a running back in the starting lineup for Shasta College's football team at the time of his injury.
Now, his physical therapist, Tim Hughes, is his coach. He pushes Burton outside of his comfort zone. He doesn't accept excuses. The athlete inside won't allow Burton to give up, or even take an easy day.
"My strength came from all the sports I played and God," Burton said.
In the coming days, Burton will check out of the hospital and begin the next phase in his recovery and his life at home.
Recovery from traumatic brain injuries can take 24 to 36 months, Nicacio said. Burton is facing rigorous physical, occupational and speech therapy for months to come, Nicacio said.
"To be sure, he has a long road ahead," Nicacio said.
It's a road Burton is prepared to travel.
"Whatever I've got to do to get better, I'm ready," Burton said. "I'm never going to give up."
Burton has goals for his future. He wants to go on daily runs again. He wants to work out at the gym. He wants to swim in his backyard pool.
Burton's determination serves as daily inspiration for his doctors, therapists, friends and family. For the last three months, Burton's story has also inspired thousands of people in the local community and beyond.
Kimberly Hash suspects her son will continue to inspire.
"I think God has a plan for him. I always have," she said. "There's just something about him that's really special."