A 10-year-old boy in Kansas left the hospital happy and healthy on Wednesday night after being attacked by wasps in his tree house, falling out and landing face first onto a meat skewer, his mother said.
Xavier Cunningham was playing with his friends in a tree house behind his home in Harrisonville on Saturday, Sept. 8, when the group was attacked by yellow jackets. The boys tried running to escape the attack, and that's when Xavier fell out of the tree house and landed on the skewer, which penetrated his skull from his face to the back of his head.
"One stung him on top of the hand, and just out of reaction, he said he pushed himself off to slap it, and he turned his body, he landed on [the skewer],” his mother Gabrielle Miller, who said she was doing chores at the time, told ABC News on the phone.
Miller ran out to look for her son when she heard him screaming. She saw the skewer stuck in his face, and thought that he'd been attacked.
“I said who did this to you, and he said, 'No one. I tripped,'” she recalled. "He looked at me and he said, 'I'm dying, mom.' And I said, 'No, you're going to be fine.'”
The boy was first brought to a local hospital but then transferred to the University of Kansas Hospital.
When Dr. Koji Ebersole, associate professor of vascular and endovascular neurosurgery, first saw an image of the injury, he wasn't sure if it would be possible to operate on the boy, since the metal had barbed edges meant to keep food from slipping off, he said.
“This barbecue skewer probably a foot-and-a-half long, and half-a-foot of it was lodged in his face, going back all the way across the head to the back of the neck,” Ebersole said.
Despite being unsure about the outcome of the surgery, Miller said that her son dealt with the ordeal in an outstanding way.
“I know he was scared, but he was putting on such a brave face,” she said, adding that his talking gave the surgeon enough time to prepare to save his life.
"At that point, when he was up and talking and stuff, what's going through your mind [is] that when the surgeons take him, that could be the last time you see him,” she said.
Ebersol, who led the surgical team, said it was a miracle that the boy was still conscious with the skewer going through his face.
"What was remarkable was that it didn't hit the eye. It didn't hit the brain. It didn't hit the spinal cord, so it didn't hit those critical structures,” he said. “The last critical structure of importance are the blood vessels.”
Due to the complicated nature of the injury, it took the group eight hours to plan the operation. Because the skewer was square-shaped and close to so many fragile parts in the head, the surgeons decided to remove it the same way that it went in, Ebersol said.
In all, the operation lasted about 10 minutes.
“He proved to be remarkably brave and he didn't get anxious. He didn't start moving around and he didn't try to grab the device. He didn't get nervous. He was very calm — on board with the plan — and he waited until the morning,” Ebersol said. “It's one in a million that it happened. If you want to describe it as miraculous, I agree 100 percent.”