In 2007, tragedy struck 6-year-old Caleb Howard.
He was traveling with his family when a distracted driver careened into their lane. Their vehicle was hit; the accident took the lives of Caleb's mother, Janine, and two of his siblings, Esther and Matthew.
The Howard family was devastated. Caleb's father, Ben Howard, made the difficult decision to donate Esther's organs—a decision which ultimately saved the life of a four-year-old boy in Salt Lake City. Amazingly, the family also reached out to the driver who caused the accident, offering incredible words of forgiveness.
"There's no struggle (to forgive)," said Caleb's brother, Quinn Howard. "From what we understand, this individual wasn't under the influence of alcohol or drugs. He seems to be a good kid. It's just an accident. That's the way the whole family's looked at it, and there's zero animosity."
But while their faith was providing a source of strength, the family was immediately forced into a difficult battle.
Caleb broke several bones and had a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Doctors warned that Caleb might not live, and even if he survived, he might never be the same.
"We didn't have any idea what kind of an experience we were going to have," Caleb's grandmother said later.
But Caleb would have some help on his road to recovery. It came from an unexpected source: a golden retriever named Colonel provided through Intermountain Therapy Animals.
With his trainer, Susan, Colonel sat patiently by Caleb's side. The young boy immediately seemed more aware, and as Ben Howard looked on in amazement, he began to react to the animal; he slowly learned to throw a ball for Colonel. He'd try to give the dog hugs. Every time the dog showed up, Caleb managed to do a little bit more.
And slowly, Ben realized that his son was going to be the same kid with the bright eyes and the big smile.
"We're in a hospital environment where nothing is normal," Ben said, describing the therapy animal experience. "When the animal comes in, we're not in a hospital environment anymore."
"The child forgets about therapy and focuses on play."
A video of Caleb's recovery has racked up nearly 9 million views on YouTube.
In the comments, Caleb drops by to explain what Colonel meant to him.
"Hi, My name is Caleb and this video is my life," he wrote. "I'm posting from my dad's account. It was very difficult growing up always dealing with bone surgeries and fighting to overcome a Traumatic Brain Injury. My dad showed me the hundreds of comments and I have read so many. I wanted to just say thank you to the thousands of people who have reached out. It makes me feel special and loved." He adds, "I am doing fine now but there are still other people that need your love and support. There are probably people that you know in your own life right now that could use a kind word, an e-mail of encouragement, or just a friend."
"I encourage you to continue to share your love and kindness with those in need right now. PS: Yes I got a dog and her name is Star."
Later, Caleb's father chimed in.
"I am pleased to share that after 8 years and over a dozen horrific surgeries Caleb is doing great and is attending regular school now and achieving very good grades. He has been a great example of courage to his family and many others. We will never forget Colonel and his wonderful handler Susan."
For a family hit by an unthinkable tragedy, Colonel was more than just a helper; he was a source of hope in a time of need. Learn how you can help by visiting Intermountain Therapy Animals here.