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Video: Boy impaled by stingray barb survives

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    >> but let us begin with that 10-year-old boy who got the shock of his life when he was impaled by the barb of a stingray . in a moment we'll talk to him and his parents exclusively. but first, his story. 10-year-old quentin tokar was fishing with his family earlier this month off a pier on the outer banks of north carolina . nearby another group of fishermen were pulling a stingray out of the water. in the blink of an eye the barb of the stingray came off, flighting at least eight feet in the air, hitting quentin in the stomach.

    >> i don't think i have words for what it felt like. i just pretty much started screaming, get it out of me.

    >> reporter: it pierced his liver. with only a portion of the four-inch barb remaining visible.

    >> alls i could do i think is if i was going to live or not. and when we were going to get to the hospital.

    >> reporter: luckily for quentin , a nurse, also on the pier, instructed the family to leave the barb alone.

    >> had they pulled it out he would have probably bled out right there really quick.

    >> reporter: approximately 1500 stingray injuries occur in the u.s. every year. and in 2006 , there were at least 17 fatalities recorded worldwide. one of the most memorable stingray encounters was the death of steve irwin , the crocodile hunter , who died from blood loss in 2006 after removing a stingray barb from his heart.

    >> it popped off the stingray , you could hear it. and then you heard me scream.

    >> reporter: quentin battled some serious infections after his surgery but miraculously doctors now expect him to make a full recovery. quentin 's also kept his sense of humor over the accident, carrying around a stuffed stingray that he affectionately named ray. and quentin tokar and his parents candace and peter are with us exclusively, along with the barb. good morning to all of you. you've got it in your hands. i know, quentin , you're a very brave guy, i really do. i know that you just got out of the hospital on saturday because you had infection caused by that barb. how are you feeling?

    >> good.

    >> you feeling almost back to normal?

    >> yeah.

    >> getting a little better every day?

    >> yeah.

    >> it was a couple weeks ago, you are at, you know, on a pier with your parents on vacation, watching the fisherman. from what i understand they had caught the stingray and they were trying to take the barb off it. did you see that part?

    >> yeah.

    >> you saw them doing that. and then, did you see it, when it suddenly flew off it, and you saw it coming towards you?

    >> no, i didn't see that. but it was -- in our group tried to pull it off.

    >> and then it went flying. and you said in the taped piece, you can't even describe how painful it was?

    >> yeah.

    >> really awful.

    >> yeah.

    >> really awful. peter, i know you weren't standing right with your son. you didn't see it either but you heard him screaming.

    >> yeah.

    >> and you ran over to him. you lifted up his shirt. describe what you saw.

    >> it was about that much of that barb still sticking out of his stomach, and of course my initial reaction was to yank it out. fortunately there was a nurse on the peer and another gentleman was with us, chuck, and they both kind of screamed at me, no, don't pull it out. then we laid him down, and the nurse helped out a lot trying to hold it so it wouldn't go in any further.

    >> but it went in, didn't it? you were breathing so strongly, his chest was going up and down, stomach was going up and down.

    >> exactly. it kept inching its way in, until it was all the way under the skin.

    >> at that point --

    >> actually at that point i passed out.

    >> really?

    >> yeah. it was -- i thought that was it.

    >> you thought you were going to lose your boy?

    >> yep, sure did, right there on the pier.

    >> candace , i know you ran down the pier to call 911.

    >> yes.

    >> and you were -- you were scared to come back.

    >> i was. i was kind of stuck in the middle . i was afraid to go back, because i thought that the only reason they weren't bringing him down the pier was because he died. and so i -- i stood there and well i didn't really stand there, i paced back and forth and walked in circles and was on the phone with 911 the whole time. but i just felt like i couldn't go back up, and i couldn't believe because i couldn't leave him.

    >> and then you did go back up and discovered peter's legs had buckled and he fainted.

    >> yes.

    >> but the ambulance did show up.

    >> the ambulance showed up, that's when i walked back up with them. with the emts to where he was at.

    >> because then you knew at least there was help.

    >> yes.

    >> something good was going to happen.

    >> yes.

    >> through all of this i understand quentin you pretty much kept your cool given everything that happened. how would you describe the way your son handled this?

    >> he's a trouper, i'll tell you. he was awfully strong. never once lost consciousness. he talked to us the whole time. you know, throughout the whole thing. it was -- it was amazing. terrifying. but he's a strong little boy .

    >> and thank goodness for that nurse. we've been trying to find her. i understand her first name is sandy.

    >> we believe it's sandy.

    >> what do you want to say to her?

    >> thank you. from everything i have, thank you.

    >> you've got a stingray which i find pretty incredible. you named it ray. you're not scared of no stinking stingray ?

    >> no.

    >> your shirt says, just take your best shot. hopefully there won't be another barb coming your way any time soon. let's hope not. you going to save that? what are you going to do with it?

    >> i guess put it in a drawer.

    >> take it to school, man. you are the coolest kid now to everybody in school.

    >> no doubt. a story to tell.

    >> all kidding aside, we're so glad you're okay. because the outcome could have been just horrible. thank god for that. so nice to meet you quentin and candace and peter.

TODAY contributor
updated 8/19/2010 10:31:19 AM ET 2010-08-19T14:31:19

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.

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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.

Related story: 5,000 turn out to honor late Crocodile Hunter

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.

Related story: Stingray attack survivor ready to fish again

“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.

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