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Boy Cheats Death On 12th Birthday

Nathan King cheated death on his 12th birthday. Two weeks ago, he lunged across his bedroom onto his bed to catch a football and landed on his school bookbag, piercing his heart with a pencil that was inside the bag. After emergency open heart surgery, he is now recuperating at home in Helena, Montana.

Nathan, his mother and the surgeon who performed open heart surgery talked to The Early Show on Tuesday.

Nathan's accident on Feb. 23 left the pencil lodged so far into his chest that it pierced his heart. "I didn't really feel it go in, but I looked down and I saw it," he says. A full-sized pencil was embedded in his chest, with only the last two inches visible. The pencil was throbbing like a metronome with every heartbeat.

He yelled for his mom.

"We knew it was serious as soon as we saw it," said his mother, Lorri Earley. "You could see the pencil moving with each heartbeat."

Earley, a licensed practical nurse, knew not to attempt to remove the pencil. If she had, Nathan would have died in a matter of minutes. The pencil had penetrated his right heart chamber, ripped a valve and was embedded in his heart, near its back wall.

Earley called 911 and Nathan was rushed to St. Peter's Community Hospital in Helena. From there, he was flown to Benefis Healthcare in Great Falls.

Two and a half hours after the accident, Dr. Brett Williams was performing open heart surgery on Nathan. Oddly enough, it was Dr. Williams' birthday, too.

For the surgery's success, the surgeon credits in part the community hospital, for its quick evaluation, and Nathan's mother, for her appropriate action. "If you watch enough cowboy and Indian movies, you know not to pull something out when you've been impaled," he says.

According to Dr. Williams, the pencil had penetrated Nathan's chest, pierced through lining sacs around the heart and through two chambers of the heart. Nathan did not die immediately because the pencil did not injure parts of the heart that are critical to its functioning.

And, Dr. Williams says, "I think it was just a blessing from God that he was able to remain stable throughout the period of transport until he could receive surgery." Luckily, there was little bleeding into the sac around the heart, or "it would have compromised its function and possibly caused his death."

Dr. Williams opened Nathan's chest, removed the pencil, repaired the hole in the chamber of his heart, and then closed the incision.

Nathan was welcomed home a week ago by neighbors, who gave him a sweatshirt that shows a heart pierced by a wooden pencil. It's labeled "Tougher Than Dracula." He is now recuperating at home with his mother and his step-father, Mike Earley.

Dr. Williams expects Nathan to fully recover. "He should live a normal life-probably a little more cautious than other 12-year-olds, but a normal life."

He won't be able to participate in sports for about simonths. And he is not, says his mother, going to be playing football in the house again.

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