'I anticipated him dying that night. He didn't die'

VANCOUVER, Wash. - Roger Burton wouldn't let himself think it.

"The first words out of the doctor's mouth to me was 'if he makes it', and that is just a, like getting hit in the chest with a giant hammer," he said.

Roger's 21-year-old son, Tyler Burton, nearly died after falling and hitting his head on the pavement after someone hit him in the face in October in Chico, Calif.

Tyler was there to play football at Shasta College in Redding.

"The doctor kept saying over and over and over that Tyler was destined for a nursing home, staring at the wall," said Roger.

Tyler has been through several lengthy surgeries. At one point, doctors took a piece of his skull and preserved it near his stomach for a month before putting it back on his head.

They insisted Tyler would never be the same. Roger admitted he finally gave in.

"I put my head on his shoulder and was crying my brains out, sobbing, saying goodbye to my son," he said.

Then everything changed.

"I anticipated him dying that night," said Roger. "He didn't die."

Tyler didn't die the next night. Or the next. He continued to outlast his doctors' expectations.

"I was in the room with him alone and I asked him to lift his thumb," Roger said. "And he raised his thumb to me, and I said 'do it again Tyler', and he did it again."

Tyler started taking small steps toward recovery. Soon, he even gave his dad a high-five.

He had been in a Chico, Calif. hospital since his injury, but he arrived at the PeaceHealth Southwest Washington Medical Center on Thursday to the cheers of family and friends. He will stay at the hospital and learn to walk again.

His mother, Kimberly Hash, said Burton is going to go through five or six hours of rehab a day. It is very painful and difficult for him, but she said he has the will to do it.

"I really believed he was going to die, and they put the skull cap back on - he just kept doing better, and it was awesome," said Hash.

He's now moving, talking, recognizing people and even standing for the first time on his own Wednesday.

"He's able to take his left leg now and throw it out there in front and take a step, and he walked 50 feet doing that," said Roger.

"On Christmas morning, I'm on my knees next to his bed just similar to what I was a month earlier, crying at his bedside," Roger said. "I was holding his hand and we were both smiling at each other, and that's been the most phenomenal thing in my life."

KATU's Kerry Tomlinson contributed to this story.