TODAY   |  July 28, 2013

Nail pierces boy’s heart in bizarre accident

A plain nail became a deadly weapon when it suddenly shot out of a lawnmower, striking 12-year-old Abe Tullis. His chances of survival hinged on some very slim chances. TODAY’s Lester Holt reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> this remarkable story of a young boy who survived a name going right through his heart.

>> it is a remarkable, amazing story. it happened after that nail was shot out from under a lawn mower . the 12-year-old was taken to the hospital. his best chance of survival meant everything had to go just right.

>> reporter: the image is staggering, an x-ray of a nail piercing a young boy 's heart. how could he survive and how did it happen? 12-year-old abe tullis was looking forward to mowing the lawn. he had sign his dad due it many times. inner li june he got his first chance. almost immediately something went wrong.

>> i just heard the lawn mower just stop, and i heard him shout out.

>> reporter: the lawn mower hit a 2 1/2 inch nail and flung it straight into abe 's chest.

>> it felt kind of like stinging, but kind of like a bruise-sting mix.

>> as i pulled the shirt up and watched him breathe. as the chest expanded, the nail pulled in.

>> is this what it feels like to be shot.

>> reporter: he was lucky. abe 's dad is the head of a trauma unit at a local hospital. he knew not to pull the nail out. instead he shouted for his wife to get the car.

>> his color was changing, his eyes rolled back once. he was having a really hard time breathing.

>> reporter: those hospital x-rays showed just how grave the situation was. the nail penetrated deep into abe 's heart. he was rushed to surgery. more good luck. it turns out the nail was just long enough to keep the hole in abe 's heart plugged. any shorter and it easily could have killed him. throughout the ordeal, abe had only one brief moment of doubt.

>> that was for like five seconds and then i'm like, i'm going to make it.

>> even just a couple days later, he was dancing in the hall at the hospital, trying to do the running man.

>> reporter: seven weeks after surgery, abe is a regular 12-year-old, but one with a nasty scar to remind him of his brush with death. as for the nail --

>> put it on my shelf.

>> he's okay and we understand the family is now using a lawn service for mowing. you hear about these stories occasionally, people that have things that go through their head and they survive. i guess we're tougher than we look sometimes.

>> that's not the first x-ray we've seen with something piercing