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Video: Toddler survives pencil through neck

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    MEREDITH VIEIRA, co-host: Now to a playground accident that nearly took the life of an Idaho toddler. We're going to talk exclusively with the Banks family about the miracle that saved their son in a moment. But first, TODAY national correspondent Natalie Morales has their incredible story. Natalie , good morning.

    NATALIE MORALES reporting: Incredible it is, Meredith . Well, you know, Saturday started out like any other day for the Banks . Eighteen -month-old Auston was at the playground with his mom and brother when all of a sudden he let out a terrifying scream. He had apparently been walking with a pencil in his hand when a girl on a swing accidentally kicked him and that pencil went through his mouth. And we should warn you, some of the video you're about to see is fairly graphic.

    Mr. TYRONE BANKS (Auston's Father): Where you going?

    MORALES: Eighteen -month-old Auston Banks has all the energy and fussiness of a typical toddler.

    Ms. AMBER BANKS (Auston's Mother): It's OK.

    MORALES: You'd never know that a few days ago, the Idaho boy came within millimeters of death after a six-inch pencil pierced through his mouth and became lodged in his neck in a playground accident.

    Ms. BANKS: Literally a miracle saved my baby.

    MORALES: His parents, Tyrone and Amber Banks , rushed their son to a Boise hospital for emergency surgery , all the while fearing they wouldn't make it in time to save his life.

    Ms. BANKS: I honestly, when we were pulling into the hospital , thought I was losing my son. He wasn't -- his breathing slowed down, his eyes shut. He went totally limp.

    MORALES: Our Boise affiliate, KTVB , was in the operating room as the drama unfolded. Doctors took a CAT scan and found the pencil lodged in the back of his throat between Auston 's spine and carotid artery .

    Dr. MIKE FISHER (Radiologist): So basically, it's within millimeters of potentially puncturing that artery.

    Dr. ADRIAN CURNOW (Surgeon): The main risk for him now is going to be to get this as clean as possible and to keep him on some IV antibiotics so he doesn't get an infection.

    MORALES: Miraculously, doctors were able to carefully remove the pencil , and just a few days later little Auston is full of life and playing again. Mr. BANKS" I don't ever want to go through that again. Very scary. He's lucky. We're lucky.

    MORALES: The injury left a small hole in Auston 's mouth and another just below his left ear. Two small scars that will always remind the Banks how close they came to losing their son and how thankful they are still to have him. And Auston 's doctors say the difference between life and death in this case was the difference between a sharp pencil and a dull one. Now if that pencil had had a sharper point, it would have likely punctured Auston 's carotid

    artery. Meredith: Yeah, Natalie Morales. It's so true. This is the pencil actually that was stuck in Auston 's mouth.

    VIEIRA: Unbelievable.

    MORALES: Auston , his parents Amber and Tyrone Banks are with us exclusively. Good morning to all of you.

    VIEIRA: Good morning.

    Ms. BANKS: I know you took two planes yesterday, discharged from the hospital yesterday, took two planes to get here. Haven't had any sleep, but other than that you must be feeling pretty good.

    VIEIRA: Oh, we feel tons of relief. It's the best feeling in the world. Like I've said a couple of times, it's the best thing I could ask for, for the worst thing that happened to me.

    Ms. BANKS: Amber , take us back to Saturday. You're at the playground with Auston and his three-year-old brother, Brandon .

    VIEIRA: Mm-hmm. And well, we go out every morning before lunch time and we play to let the kids run their energy out before nap time. And it was just like any other day. And we were out there, Ty standing a little further from the playground , I was standing closer to the playground . I checked on him, I looked over at him. He was playing with older brother. Had nothing in his hand, was just walking around looking around, and turned back to talk to somebody and it wasn't 20 seconds later I heard this -- I don't -- I can't even describe it as a scream, it was more like a high-pitched sound because his tongue was pinned down. And I looked over, and he was laying on his back in front of the swing. And I didn't think anything of it still at that point. I walked in and I was like `oh, you're all right,' and I brushed his back off and saw the pencil sticking out and thought he was chewing on a broken piece of pencil . So I went to go pull it out and tell him no, no for chewing on things and realized it had no give.

    Ms. BANKS: That it was stuck. And as you found out later, that pencil was lying on the playground , he picked it up, and then he walked into the path of a child who was on a swing and the child hit him and that's what knocked the pencil into his mouth.

    VIEIRA: Correct.

    Ms. BANKS: At that point you don't know, you scoop him up, you call to your husband Ty , `We've got to get to the hospital .' Five-minute drive, Ty , but it must have felt like an eternity to get to the hospital .

    VIEIRA: It took forever . We hit, I think every -- almost every red light in that little stretch of road. And it just took forever . I was -- I was freaking out. I was scared.

    Mr. BANKS: Well, you also thought he was -- you were losing him.

    VIEIRA: Mm-hmm.

    Mr. BANKS: Yeah. We came to the light directly at the hospital that you turn in to go to the hospital and he quit crying a short distance before that. And then when we got to that light it was red, and of course, every law says you don't run a red light . And he all of a sudden went limp in my arms and I put my hand on -- I had his hands down like this pinned so he wouldn't pull the pencil and I put my hand on his chest and could barely, barely feel him breathing. And then I was like, ` Ty , you just got to run this light , you got to run it, you got to run it, we're losing our baby, we're losing our baby.' And it wasn't actually till the nurse took him out of my arms at St. Luke 's that he came back to. And he...

    Ms. BANKS: I can see this is still for you despite the outcome extremely emotional.

    VIEIRA: It is really emotional. Like we came really close to losing our baby. You know? I actually haven't cried yet. So I won't now. It's just really hard to think how close I was to never seeing him again. I don't -- it's just...

    Ms. BANKS: Well, as the doctors said...

    VIEIRA: ...an incredible...

    Ms. BANKS: ...it was a miracle. Thank goodness that this pencil was dull and not sharp because if it had -- if it had pierced his artery he could have bled to death. An hour operation. A little bit of a war wound on the back but -- of his neck but that's going to heal.

    VIEIRA: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. BANKS: And any more surgeries?

    VIEIRA: They said that there probably won't be any more surgeries. He has a checkup on Monday. It pierced his tonsil so they're a little concerned about the swelling in his tonsil. But other than that, no. More on Monday, we'll know more on Monday. But as far as right now goes and today goes, he's...

    Ms. BANKS: Good.

    Mr. BANKS: ...free and clear of everything.

    Ms. BANKS: It's great to see a binky in his mouth instead of a pencil .

    VIEIRA: Yes, it is. And I told Ty he's not leaving the house without his binky because if he would have had his binky in the playground that day...

    Ms. BANKS: Where is his binky ?

    VIEIRA: On the floor.

    Offscreen Voice: Oh, there it is. I want to get this binky .

    VIEIRA: If he would have had that binky that day, he wouldn't have had any chance of the pencil getting in his mouth.

    Ms. BANKS: There you go, sweetheart.

    VIEIRA: So he's not allowed to leave our door without that binky anymore.

    Ms. BANKS: Exactly. Well, we thank you for coming here. It really is a miracle. As you said, he has angels on his shoulders.


TODAY contributor
updated 5/13/2009 9:48:50 AM ET 2009-05-13T13:48:50

For toddler Auston Banks, the difference between life and death amounted to the lack of a pencil sharpener.

The 18-month-old tot was frolicking with his family at a Meridian, Idaho, playground when one of the more bizarre accidents imaginable happened. He picked up a stray pencil from the ground, and then collided with a girl on a swing. The force of the collision jammed the pencil into the back of Auston’s throat and sent his family on a frantic, life-and-death run to the emergency room. 

Miraculously, Auston survived his predicament, and his thankful parents Ty and Amber Banks happily showed off their recovering son live on TODAY Wednesday.

“We feel tons of relief,” Amber Banks told Meredith Vieira as she held energetic Auston in her arms. “It’s the best thing I could ask for with the worst thing that could happen to me.”

A sudden cry
The drama unfolded May 9 as Ty and Amber took Austen and his 3-year-old brother Brandon to a playground near their home. “We go out every morning before lunchtime and we play to let the kids run their energy out before nap time,” Amber related.

“I looked over at him, he was playing with his older brother,” she told Vieira. “I turned back to talk to somebody and it wasn’t 20 seconds later I heard this high-pitched sound — not even like a scream, because his tongue was pinned down.

“He was lying on his back in front of the swing. I said, ‘You’re all right,’ and brushed his back off and saw the pencil sticking out, and thought he was chewing on a broken piece of pencil.

“So I went to pull it out — and it had no give.”

St. Luke’s Children Hospital is only a 5-minute drive from the playground, but it still seemed like an eternity for the parents. Ty Banks caught every red light along the way. “It just took forever,” the day told Vieira. “I was freaking out, I was scared.”

Doctors performed surgery to remove the pencil lodged through the back of Auston’s neck.

Amber said she could literally feel the life draining from her son’s body as the 6-inch green pencil protruded from his mouth.

“We came to the light directly at the hospital and it was red,” she said. “All of the sudden he just went limp in my arms. I had his hands pinned down so he couldn’t pull the pencil, and I put my hands on his chest. I could barely, barely feel him breathing.

“I said, ‘Ty, you’ve got to run this light, we’re losing our baby.”

A near miss
Upon arriving at the hospital, doctors at St. Luke’s discovered a near-miss of amazing proportions. X rays showed the pencil tip was dull, and had missed his spine while pushing his carotid artery to the side.

“The doctor told me that if it would have been a sharpened pencil, it probably wouldn’t have moved the vein over; it would have went right through it,” Amber explained. If it had, Auston likely would have bled to death before he ever reached the hospital.

Doctors successfully removed the pencil from Auston’s mouth in surgery captured by the local NBC affiliate’s cameras. Three days later, the toddler was out of the hospital and back to running around with his family.

On TODAY, Auston’s mom showed the scar that remains from his dangerous encounter with a pencil on the playground.
Amber Banks says she found the girl who had dropped the pencil on the playground, but instead of scolding her, the grateful mom thanked for wearing the pencil down to the nub before discarding it. That act likely saved her son’s life — but Amber admitted her nerves are still on edge over the one-in-a-million accident.

“It is really emotional — we came really close to losing our baby,” Amber said, choking back tears. “It’s just really hard to think how close I was to never seeing him again.”

Auston sucked on his pacifier during his star turn on TODAY interview — and sent Vieira scurrying across the set to retrieve his “binky” when he spit it out. Amber Banks said the family has instituted a new rule to keep foreign objects out of the tot’s mouth.

“I told Ty he’s not leaving the house without his binky,” she told Vieira. “If he would have had his binky on the playground that day, he wouldn’t have had any chance of the pencil getting in his mouth.”

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints


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