A little more than three weeks after a blazing hot flare was fired into his mouth, badly burning his mouth and throat, Braden Hatton surprised his mother, Kimberly, while she visited him at UNC Medical Center: He spoke.

His father, Scott, had already left the hospital to go home, but Kimberly didn’t want him to miss it.

“And my wife called me and said, ‘I got somebody that wants to talk to you.’ I said, ‘Who?’ I heard him say, real quietly, ‘I love you, Dad.’ … It was awesome,’ ” Hatton said.

Braden, 15, of Hudson was shot in the mouth with a flare gun on Jan. 23 at a house on Walt Arney Road in Lenoir. His initial prognosis was grim — doctors said it could take years for him to be able to eat. His family was told to expect a long, grueling recovery.

But Braden is healing far more quickly than anyone expected, and he was released from the hospital this week, 32 days after arriving, Hatton said.

“The doctors cannot believe how quickly he’s healed, how well his body is handling this. Even the burns on his face and lips are gone. It’s just been a complete turnaround. They went in for surgery on his throat Thursday, (but) when they got him down there they did not do anything. They said his throat was healing perfect,” he said. “He shocked the doctors. He shocked everyone with his healing process, his drive. He was walking around the ICU unit. I mean, he was even challenging his nurses to squat competitions. They’re amazed at how quickly he’s come out of this, as far as everything. He is able to talk, he is able to swallow.”

“His nickname is Tank. They called him that for a reason,” he added.

During Hatton’s phone interview on Thursday, Braden — nearby and listening to his father — piped up. His voice sounded strained and a little jagged, but his words came through clearly.

“Tell them I was spitting flames,” he said.

Taking the phone himself, Braden went on to say that he is looking forward to going back to school.

“Yeah, I was thinking it will be a week or two possibly, but I’ll be back,” he said.

Braden went to football practice — he is on South Caldwell High School’s junior varsity team — on Wednesday and jogged around, visiting with his teammates.

Braden said he has missed his friends. When he first returned home on Tuesday, he called them “and had them cover over to see everybody,” he said.

Hatton said that Braden is determined.

“When he gets focused on something, he don’t let up,” he said.

Braden still has healing to do. He is still fed through a feeding tube, and he’ll need speech therapy, Hatton said, but for now, his family is simply grateful he is home.

“The good Lord is looking after this youngin.’ He must have a bigger purpose for him,” Hatton said.

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.

Reporter Kara Fohner can be reached at 828-610-8721.