Parents will try to do anything and everything they can to ensure the safety and wellbeing of their children. Yet even though some will go above and beyond their call of duty as mom or dad, life is full of surprises and there are some things parents just can’t control.
When life throws us a difficult curveball, it’s all about how we react as parents that can make all the difference in the end. Take, for example, the incredible story of a little boy named Caleb, whose life changed in just the blink of an eye…
Normal Little Boy
June 28th, 2007 is a day Ben Howard will never be able to forget. It was just a few days after school let out and vacation had begun for his five children. The family was gearing up for a fun summer ahead when an unthinkable tragedy ruined all their plans for the future.
Drive with Mom
It was a normal summer day and Ben’s wife, 39-year-old Janine Howard, was driving the couple’s four youngest, biological kids: Matthew, 11, Rachel, 13, Esther, eight, and Caleb, six. Their 19-year-old adoptive son, John DeVores, who lived with them since he was a little boy, had stayed home. It was a move that would haunt him forever…
The Howard clan was traveling south on Highway 89 when a terrible twist of fate occurred. A 25-year-old man driving a northbound pickup truck became drowsy and started to doze off. He veered into oncoming traffic and slammed into the family.
Janine Howard was doing everything right: she was driving at a safe speed and had all four of her little ones buckled up. Yet it wouldn’t be enough to protect them. The truck collided head-on into Janine and her precious commodities, flipping the car over. The mom of five was killed instantly…
Gone Too Soon
Eleven-year-old Matthew was also killed in the horrific crash, and a couple of days later, his sister, eight-year-old Ethel also succumbed to the terrible injuries she endured in the accident. In a miracle, 13-year-old Rachel survived and came out of the crash relatively unharmed, physically, at least.
Things were not looking as good for six-year-old Caleb though. Ben Howard was completely devastated by the sudden loss of his wife and babies, but the father knew he had to stay strong to help support his surviving kids, especially Caleb, who needed him now more than ever…
T. B. I.
Doctors gave Ben Howard both good news and bad news. His son had survived the accident, but the impact of the crash itself was so severe that the little boy had suffered several broken bones and a traumatic brain injury. The head-on collision caused little Caleb’s brain to slam against his skull so hard, that it killed millions and millions of cells in his still-developing young mind.
In fact, there was no guarantee Caleb could even survive long after such a terrible brain injury. This, combined with the fact that Caleb was so young and his body, so weak, doctors feared the worst. And after the worst had already come for Ben Howard, the poor father wasn’t very optimistic about his little boy’s recovery…
Caleb Howard was in critical condition, and his progress was slow and uncertain. As his mother, brother, and sister were laid to rest, the little boy laid in a hospital bed on life support, with doctors very uncertain of his own fate. Ben Howard elected for organ donation for his family members, hoping to help save some lives as a silver lining in the tragedy, and he would do the same if it came to that for little Caleb.
Thankfully, it didn’t have to, and just a couple of months after the horrible crash, the future started to seem a little bit brighter for Caleb. He started to regain motor function over his body and speak again slowly. Memories before and after the worst day of his young life started rushing back…
Road To Recovery
The little boy had come a very long way, surprising his doctors and family in a short amount of time, but it wouldn’t be enough. Caleb was going to be severely disabled for the rest of his life and still had countless hours of working with occupational therapists ahead of him.
Yet, not all of Caleb’s therapies would be so bad. A highlight in the hospital was when the little boy was introduced to an adorable and loving Golden Retriever named Colonel. The therapy dog was well trained in comforting and assisting patients like Caleb, but there was something different about their first interaction. Something that the medical staff hadn’t seen with other patients…
Up until meeting his new furry friend, Caleb was practically lifeless. The poor little boy was unresponsive and had little to no energy. After everything he had been through, this was understandable, but the boy needed some motivation if he was ever going to grow stronger and leave the hospital.
Something happened when Caleb saw the sweet Golden Retriever. When Colonel was around, there was a noticeable change in the boy, and he began to improve more so than in the previous weeks. The medical staff was in disbelief and agreed there was only going to be one thing that could save Caleb: adopting Colonel as his very own therapy pup…
Dogs like Colonel are trained to help traumatic brain injury victims like Caleb to do anything from help them get dressed to helping calm them when they have symptoms of post-traumatic stress. As Caleb began improving, Ben Howard realized his son was a living example of this. If Caleb would never recover from his mental injuries from the accident, he hoped his boy’s new four-legged companion would at least help diminish the depression he suffered as a result.
After their first meeting, it was clear Caleb and Colonel were a perfect match, but it wasn’t until the boy began healing emotionally and mentally that the pairing felt successful. Even after all the pain and heartbreak he had just endured, little Caleb was starting to smile again thanks to his new hero. And even though doctors said it was impossible, Ben Howard began to secretly hope that his son would fully recover from his terrible injuries…
Thanks to his new pal, Caleb had become more alert and willing to work with his occupational therapist than his doctors could have ever imagined. He was walking, talking and using his hands better than anyone expected him to be after a few short months — and it was all because of his canine companion.
It would be a long road to recovery for little Caleb, but he now had the one thing he needed to get there: motivation. Like most people and their pets, Caleb and Colonel shared a very special bond and the boy’s love for the animal and vice versa helped him to improve. Ben Howard saw the amazing impact the dog had on his son and knew he couldn’t keep this all to himself…
During a time when most children would be devastated by the loss of their mother and siblings, on top of enduring the physical and emotional pain that results from such a devastating event, Caleb had managed to improve all in thanks to Colonel. This, in turn, helped Ben, and his two other children recover from their heartbreaking loss, as well.
Life Goes On
Nothing could make up for the tragedy faced by the Howards, but in time, things started to get a little easier for the broken family. In 2011, Ben Howard penned a self-help book about dealing with trauma as a grieving widower and a couple of years later he became a grandpa when Rachel got married and had a baby of her own. As for Caleb, after a video documenting the boy’s incredible transformation thanks to Colonel went viral online, the duo inspired millions of people and drew some much-deserved attention to the benefit of therapy animals for people in recovery.