CHARLOTTE — Kenny Allen is quick to correct anyone who refers to wrestler Alberto del Rio as “Albert.”
“It’s Alberrrrrrrrto,” the 11-year-old Rock Hill boy says, rrrrrrrolling his tongue for what has to be five seconds.
This kid loves wrestling.
CM Punk and Funkasaurus are his favorites. John Cena is way too popular, and The Miz is way too annoying. And World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon’s name should be spelled the way it sounds – “McMan.”
In his hospital bed Thursday morning, Kenny fiddled with action figures of several other wrestlers. He lifted them up and flew them around, bypassing the tubes that draped from the top of his head and attached to a bulky piece of machinery at the end of his bed.
It’s a “wound vac,” he said.
For more than a week, the “wound vac” has been suctioning blood from a gaping wound in the back of his head. A wrap of gauze and tape surrounds the base of his skull, concealing a gash Kenny’s parents say he has yet to see.
The wrap “feels weird,” he said. “My eyeballs hurt.”
Still, he smiled when he reached under his gauze cap – “Don’t call it a cone head!” – and felt blond spikes sprouting.
“I can feel hair!” he said excitedly.
He could also feel the stitches and staples that line the back of his head.
Kenny has been a patient at Carolinas Medical Center for 10 days. He was in the intensive care unit before he was moved to CMC’s Levine Children’s Hospital.
Nurses come in and out, check his vitals and bring him corndogs for lunch.
When Kenny knocked on a neighbor’s door on May 30 to borrow a blender, the neighbor’s 2-year-old pit bull jumped at him, lodging its teeth into the back of his head.
“It felt like 5 million cuts in my head,” Kenny said Thursday. “I remember all of it.”
The dog, named Dallas, belonged to Anthony J. Smith and Angela Oneppo. Dallas was tied to a cable outside before it got loose, police reported.
After he managed to fend off the dog, Kenny ran to his house on Ridgecrest Road, clutching the back of his head as it gushed blood. His father and several neighbors helped Kenny apply pressure to the wound while an ambulance was on its way.
But the damage was done. At least four inches of Kenny’s scalp was missing. After he was airlifted to CMC, he underwent six hours of surgery. Doctors tried to reattach his scalp, but the skin “wouldn’t take,” said his father, Kenneth Allen.
Now, Kenny faces years of skin grafting and reconstruction. His first skin grafting procedure was Monday. It’ll be six months before doctors and Kenny’s parents know if the graft was successful.
One spot of good news: Kenny’s doctors say he could go home as soon as today.
Lots of support
An hour in Kenny’s hospital room is like a glimpse into a sixth-grader’s idea of paradise.
On his door, a large sign greets visitors: “Warning: I know karate.” Several cutouts of dogs and people strutting in various martial arts poses are plastered randomly on the wooden door.
Balloons are everywhere – on the bed, on a door, on a shelf. So are “get well soon” cards and “we’re thinking of you” email printouts. His mother’s co-workers donated a bag of treats and a signed card while the people who work with his father sent a fruit basket, flowers and a large teddy bear.
From the window of his room, Kenny can watch the med-evac helicopters take off. Sometimes, he and his parents kneel on a couch in front of the window and look down, naming every convertible and Volkswagen they see in an old-fashioned game of punch buggy.
He has received his share of visitors.
Two principals and a crop of teachers from Saluda Trail Middle School – where Kenny still hopes to run track next year – have stopped by. So have his martial arts instructor, school guidance counselor, and plenty of family members.
Kenny’s “second daddy,” – Pastor Craig Ray of Faith Family Christian Center – has visited quite often along with his three sons, who are Kenny’s best friends.
When hours lag, Kenny spends time on the 10th floor playroom, where he loses himself in Xbox, Nintendo Wii and an Etch A Sketch.
He doesn’t have a girlfriend – his parents are “weird about that stuff” – but he does prefer visits from nurses named “Rachel” and “Mary.”
His legs aren’t stiff, but his backside, where doctors harvested skin to graft to his head, is a little sore.
A wheelchair is his method of travel, and he’s not complaining.
“I can do wheelies in it,” he said.
During a stroll down the hospital’s corridors, Kenny insisted on maneuvering the wheelchair himself.
Though his vitals are strong, his emotional scars have yet to heal.
‘I want to move’
Before the attack, Kenny didn’t play with Dallas often. One time, when at neighbor Anthony Smith’s home, he let Dallas jump in his lap and lick his ears.
Last week, though, Kenny shouted, “Help me! Somebody help me!” when he felt Dallas’ teeth.
Now, he doesn’t want to step close to a dog he deems “big” and “scary.”
His mother, Becki Allen, said she has considering enrolling him in counseling so he’ll get “reassurance.”
For Kenny, Ridgecrest Road is no longer safe.
“I’m ready to go to my friend’s house,” he said. “That’s the only safe place.”
He doesn’t want to go outside, and big dogs make him nervous – including the German shepherd that belongs to a neighbor three houses down.
“I don’t like my street,” he said. “I want to move.”
Another neighbor, Kenny says, has four pit bulls.
“It can happen to anybody,” he said of his ordeal.
Kenny’s incident didn’t come at an easy time for the Allen family:
• His mother is taking an unpaid leave from her job to care for Kenny.
• Kenneth Allen’s mother is on life support, hooked to a respirator that breathes for her.
• On Thursday morning, Kenneth Allen was preparing for a checkup a week after he had a heart attack.
• The family just recently bought a new car. They didn’t get the chance to make the first payment before someone slammed into it.
When Kenneth’s oldest son visited his little brother in the hospital, he cried, Allen said.
But aside from a few moments of irritation on Thursday, Kenny giggled and rambled – seemingly oblivious to some of the obstacles his parents face.
‘Waste of a summer’
Once he gets home, Kenny will have to shower differently. He won’t be able to swim, and he can’t attend Rock Hill’s Worthy Boys and Girls Camp this year.
“It would’ve been your last year,” his mother told him.
Kenny, a “firecracker baby,” was slated to celebrate his July 4 birthday at Sky High Sports, a trampoline park. Plans changed.
“It’s kind of a waste of a summer,” Kenny said. “I can’t even go swimming. That’s the whole reason for summer. I wanted to swim, and I can’t.”
But he can eat.
His “church grandmother” will cook him meatloaf – “his favorite,” Becki Allen said.
And that blender he was trying to borrow from the neighbor when he was attacked? He finally got his hands on one, thanks to a teacher from Finley Road Elementary School, where Kenny once attended. “He had his first smoothie in here,” Kenneth Allen said.
Amid worries about hospital bills, the family found time to joke. Pointing to the blender in the corner, Allen said, they acted out a fake commercial.
Kenny – the “spokesman” – said:
“I went through a dog bite to get one of these.”
Jonathan McFadden 803-329-4082