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Toddler survives pencil in brain

Neurosurgeon Ian Pople has seen quite a few injuries in his time, but when a 2-year-old girl came in to his hospital with a pencil sticking out of her skull last March, even he was taken aback.It’s the nightmare scenario of every parent: Wren Bowell was running to show off a drawing to her parents when she tripped over the stair gate and fell on a blunt pencil. In an unusual twist, the pencil en
An X-ray taken of toddler Wren Bowell before surgery shows the pencil that entered the top of her eye socket and passed through her skull, into her brain.
An X-ray taken of toddler Wren Bowell before surgery shows the pencil that entered the top of her eye socket and passed through her skull, into her brain.North Bristol NHS Trust / Today

Neurosurgeon Ian Pople has seen quite a few injuries in his time, but when a 2-year-old girl came in to his hospital with a pencil sticking out of her skull last March, even he was taken aback.

It’s the nightmare scenario of every parent: Wren Bowell was running to show off a drawing to her parents when she tripped over the stair gate and fell on a blunt pencil. In an unusual twist, the pencil entered the top of her eye, fracturing her skull and going into her brain.

“It looked pretty dramatic when she first came in,” Pople told TODAY.com. “At first, we worried that the pencil damaged significant blood vessels in the brain and that when we removed it there would be bleeding that could damage the brain. She was very lucky that the pencil just missed her eye as well as two major arteries. If it had gone in any further it may well have caused significant damage.”

Pople and his team at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol, England, got to work immediately, trying to determine how exactly to remove the pencil. It was lodged so tightly in Wren’s skull that they couldn’t pull it out, and instead needed to peel back her scalp to operate.

The team started by removing small shards of her fractured skull, along with flecks of paint and wood. They then washed the area, repaired the lining of the brain and sealed it with a special glue. Finally, they used plates to fix the bone the pencil had broken. Four hours later, Wren was in recovery, with her anxious parents at her side.

"The stairgate was there to keep her safe, but as she tripped over it while carrying the pencil she fell on to it,” father Martyn Bowell told the Guardian newspaper of London. “If anything happens to your child you are shocked. A broken bone would be bad enough, but something happening to the eye, head or brain is one of the worst things that could possibly go wrong."

Wren woke up about 12 hours after the operation, and much to her parents’ relief started speaking immediately. Less than a week after the accident, she looked nearly normal, although she remained in the hospital for another two weeks to complete a course of high-dose antibiotics.

“When a dirty pencil goes into the brain it can cause an abscess and infection which can be fatal, so we had to keep a close watch on that,” said Pople. “Just a few months later, Wren is back to fighting fitness with only minimal damage to the brain, and she’s now out of the high-risk phase.”

The family is now raising money for the hospital’s children’s unit as well as for Headway, a charity that helps people with brain injuries.

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