MIDVALE — There was a time when family and friends of 2-year-old Kaleb Wayne didn't know if the young boy would make it.
His head had been mauled. One of his ears had been torn off. Even his eyelids would later have to be sewn back on to his face.
"He almost died a couple of times," said Midvale Police Chief Tony Mason. "He's a little trouper. He really pulled through."
Today, Kaleb's parents are hopeful their son will finally get to go home in September, after being in the hospital for what will by then have been more than three months.
"He's doing really well. He's coming right along. He's stronger every day," said Tina Wayne, Kaleb's mother.
On Tuesday, a fundraising barbecue lunch was held at Midvale City Park for Kaleb. The young boy suffered life-threatening injuries when his face and head were mauled by the family dog, a former police K9 adopted just three weeks earlier.
Police from almost every agency in Salt Lake County and surrounding counties, as well as federal agents, police chiefs and the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, all attended the luncheon. The streets surrounding the park were filled with police cars and firetrucks, in a large show of support for Kaleb.
"Police officers are a brotherhood. They come together to help out," Mason said. "Virtually every department in the valley stopped by."
Kaleb was severely injured by Kuno, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois that had been forced to retire early from the Midvale Police Department.
Kuno had joined the police force just a few months earlier and was still going through training when handlers discovered he had a degenerative eye disease that made him blind in one eye and nearly blind in the other. Because of his disease, he was forced to step down before he really even got started.
One of Midvale's officers, however, offered to adopt the dog rather than have it turned over to the Humane Society.
"They were the best of friends," Tina Wayne said of Kuno and her young son. "They would play together every day."
On June 11, however, Kuno continuously bit Kaleb's face while no one else was around.
Rather than a malicious attack, the Waynes believe that due to Kuno's failing eyesight, he may have mistaken Kaleb for a toy. Kaleb's parents do not believe the dog intentionally hurt their son. They believe he was playing and got too rough.
"When we found Kaleb, the dog was just sitting there next to him, watching over him," Tina Wayne said.
Kaleb was flown to Primary Children's Medical Center. Family members say that if it weren't for the expert care from paramedics, including the crew on the medical helicopter, Kaleb likely would have died.
Salt Lake County Animal Services held on to Kuno for three weeks for observation and then euthanized the dog after they couldn't guarantee that he wouldn't attack in the future.
Since the incident, Kaleb has gone through many surgeries. His next one, which his mother says will be an important one, was scheduled for Aug. 31. Depending on how that one goes, Kaleb may be well enough to go home by mid-September.
During his time at the hospital, Kaleb has undergone numerous skin grafts. Doctors have told Tina Wayne to not even ask them how many stitches Kaleb has received, because they've lost count.
Heart-wrenching pictures of Kaleb, showing his recovery at the hospital and the extent of his injuries, were shown during a video at the barbecue Tuesday. Pictures showed his eyes still shut. One of the big questions is whether he'll regain any of his vision again or exactly what it is he can see right now.
The damage, Tina Wayne said, was to Kaleb's brain, not his eyes.
"We don't know what he sees," she said.
She said he appeared to react to light when doctors tested him. But when objects were put in front of his face, he stared right past them.
"He looks straight ahead. We're not sure what he's processing," she said.
On the bright side, Kaleb is talking and saying phrases he was saying before the accident. He is also able to recognize the sound of his mother and other family members' voices.
The hardest part for Kaleb now, like any restless 2-year-old, is being confined to his hospital room.
"He just really wants to play," his mother said.
Mason also credited the community for pulling through. All of the food for Tuesday's lunch was donated. Businesses such as Target and Walmart donated more than 130 items to be raffled to raise additional money at the lunch, including computers.
"The community has responded incredibly," Mason said.
"You come to realize there's a whole lot of people out there who care," said Kathy Gunn, Kaleb's grandmother.
There has been a constant flow of donations and fundraisers since the accident, Tina Wayne said. On Saturday, the Midvale Suicide Coalition will be holding a fundraising motorcycle ride starting at the Boys & Girls Club of Midvale, 7631 S. Chapel St. (425 West); plus a car show, lunch and activities at Midvale City Park, 455 W. 7500 South, with all of the proceeds going toward Kaleb's medical bills.
How to help
Donations can be made to the Kaleb Wayne Charitable Fund at America First Credit Union. For more information on Saturday's fundraiser for Kaleb, go online to www.bgcsv.org/.