Doctors say it’s a miracle that a 10-year-old Harrisonville boy is alive after he impaled his face on a foot-long meat skewer during a freak accident over the weekend.
Xavier Cunningham fell from a tree house Saturday afternoon when a group of yellow jackets attacked him. He landed on the metal skewer, which pierced his face, penetrating his skull all the way to the back of his head.
“I heard screaming, and I went running down the stairs,” said the boy’s mother, Gabrielle Miller. “He came in and he had this thing just sticking out.”
As they rushed to the hospital, the gravity of situation started to sink in and he said: “I’m dying Mom.”
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When she tried to assure him he wasn’t, he replied, “I can feel it.”
Arriving at the local hospital, Xavier was transferred to Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. He was then sent to the University of Kansas hospital in Kansas City, Kan.
Koji Ebersole, director of Endovascular Neurosurgery at The University of Kansas Health System, said he first learned about the accident when Children’s Mercy contacted him.
“The device was sticking out half a foot from his face and substantially lodged in the tissues,” he was told.
To get it out would be a high-risk operation.
“This thing had spared the eye, spared the brain, spared the spinal cord,” Ebersole said. “But the major concern was the blood vessels in the neck.”
By the time Xavier arrived at the University of Kansas hospital, it was late Saturday. When scans showed there was no active bleeding, doctors decided the wisest decision was to wait until Sunday morning to gather the necessary personnel before attempting to remove the skewer.
“It required Xavier being on board with that plan,” Ebersole said. “Because if he was going to get anxious or nervous and start moving around, he could move the device and cause significant injury that he had not yet incurred.”
Xavier proved to be “remarkably resilient and brave,” and agreed to wait.
The medical team determined that the skewer missed the major blood vessels — one big reason he survived.
“You couldn’t draw it up any better,” Ebersole said. “It was one in a million for it to pass 5 or 6 inches through the front of the face to the back and not have hit these things.”
It appeared that luck was on their side. But getting the skewer out would be dangerous.
Adding to the hazard was the shape of the skewer. It wasn’t round like others — it was square, with sharp edges. Twisting it could cause additional severe, possibly deadly, injury.
It would have to come out perfectly straight. After weighing several options, the medical team was able to successfully pull out the skewer.
“Miraculous” would be an appropriate word to describe what happened, Ebersole said.
Doctors think Xavier could recover completely.
“I have not seen anything passed to that depth in a situation that was survivable, let alone one where we think the recovery will be near complete if not complete,” he said.