CHICAGO • A 10-year-old American boy was making a remarkable recovery after a meat skewer pierced his skull but missed his brain, in what medics called a "one in a million" accident.
Had Xavier Cunningham landed fractions of an inch to either side after falling from a tree-house ladder onto the sharp metal spit fixed upright beneath, he may have been severely injured or killed.
Instead, he is getting back on his feet in the Mid-western state of Kansas following surgery on Sunday to remove the 30cm-long skewer embedded from his cheekbone to the back of his neck.
"This thing had spared the eye, spared the brain, spared the spinal cord," neurosurgeon Koji Ebersole, head of the local university health authority, told the Kansas City Star on Wednesday.
"It was one in a million for it to pass 13-15cm through the front of the face to the back and not have hit these things," he added. Dr Ebersole said the skewer plunged through a tiny space in Xavier's head surrounded by major blood vessels.
Xavier's ordeal began last Saturday, when he was playing near his home in the neighbouring state of Missouri. He was attacked by wasps and fell from a tree house. He landed face first on the skewer, which he and his friends had fixed upright in the ground, US media reported.
The skewer pierced his left cheek below the eye and went clean through his skull, without piercing the skin in the back of the neck. Xavier roused himself and ran home, still skewered.
"I heard screaming," his mother, Ms Gabrielle Miller, told the Star. "He came in and he had this thing just sticking out."
Remarkably, Xavier was able to walk into the emergency room of a local hospital in Missouri. He was transferred twice to other hospitals, before a qualified surgery team was assembled in Kansas.
Around 100 medical personnel took part in the operation to remove the skewer.