Quentin Tokar appeared on TODAY Thursday wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Just take your best shot.” And a stingray did just that to the plucky 10-year-old while he was on a family vacation, nearly killing him when its 4-inch barb pierced Quentin’s belly.
But unlike famed “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin, Quentin survived the attack, and he joined his parents Peter and Candace Tokar to tell Meredith Vieira how good fortune — and a Good Samaritan in the form of a nurse on the scene — smiled upon the family that day.
Quentin and three of his siblings had traveled with their parents from their Maryland home to the tourist destination of Outer Banks, N.C., and on the evening of Aug. 4, they ventured out onto a pier for some moonlight fishing. The family was intrigued when a group of fishermen pulled a stingray out of the water, and watched as one of the men tried to wrest the barb out of the creature with a pliers.
Instead, the barb went shooting eight feet across the pier, directly into Quentin.
“The barb was sticking out of his stomach, and of course my initial reaction was to yank it out,” Peter Tokar told Vieira.
“But fortunately, there was a nurse on the pier and another gentleman who was with us, and they both screamed at me, ‘No, don’t pull it out!’ ”
‘Inching its way in’
Of course, thoughts of Steve Irwin’s tragic death were on everyone’s minds. In September 2005, the popular Animal Planet TV host died from blood loss after he pulled out a stingray barb that had lodged in his heart.
So, while the family prudently left the barb in Quentin, he struggled on the pier. The nurse tried holding the tip of the barb to keep it from going in any deeper, but Quentin’s heavy breathing imbedded it ever farther. “It just kept inching its way in, inching its way in, until it was all the way under the skin,” Peter Tokar said.
Believing his son would die, Peter passed out. Meanwhile, Candace ventured down the pier to call 911. But she wasn’t faring much better emotionally.
“I was kind of stuck in the middle,” Quentin’s mother told Vieira. “I was afraid to go back; I thought the only reason they weren’t bringing him down the pier was because he died. I just felt like I couldn’t go back up there and I couldn’t leave him.”
An ambulance arrived on the scene, and the family endured a two-hour drive to Norfolk General Hospital in Virginia, the nearest facility that could operate on Quentin. The young boy told NBC affiliate WBAL that he thought the end might be near.
“All I could really think is if I was going to live or not and when we were going to get to the hospital,” Quentin said.
‘He’s a trouper’
Surgeons successfully removed the barb, but doctors kept Quentin hospitalized for four days as they staved off infection from his wound. But Quentin still wasn’t out of the woods.
After returning to Maryland for a welcome home party in honor of Quentin, a home nurse noticed an infection in the wound, and doctors feared he might have developed an abscess on his liver. But physicians at Johns Hopkins determined Quentin was instead suffering from an infection caused by bacteria from the stingray’s barb. They treated the infection, and Quentin was released from his second hospital stay last Saturday — some 10 days after the accident.
The Tokars thank their lucky stars Quentin is alive to tell his tale, and are trying to locate the nurse who came to their aid on the North Carolina pier. And Peter Tokar told Vieira he learned something about his son through the ordeal.
“He’s a trouper, I’ll tell you,” he said. “He was awfully strong, never once lost consciousness. He talked to us the whole time, through the whole thing. It was amazing. Terrifying — but he’s a strong little boy.”
In fact, even after being nearly killed by one, Quentin says he doesn’t fear stingrays: A family friend gave him a stingray plush toy that Quentin affectionately calls “Ray” and carries around with him.
Stingrays, which use their barb as their main weapon of defense, cause some 1,500 injuries in the U.S. each year. In 2006, there were at least 17 fatalities traced to stingray barbs around the world.
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints