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N.H. toddler survives a pencil through her brain

A toddler is making a quick and surprising recovery after she impaled herself in the brain with a colored pencil.

Twenty-month-old Olivia Smith of New Boston, N.H., was coloring when she accidentally fell off the sofa, according to her doctor. A colored pencil entered her right eye socket, crossed through her brain and lodged itself near her left ear in the left hemisphere of the brain. When her parents saw the tip of the pencil, they thought it had broken off and didn't realize the entire 4 to 5-inch structure was inside their daughter's head.

"Remarkably, it had missed essentially every major vessel along the way. Turn after turn it came within a millimeter," Dr. Darren B. Orbach, neurointerventional radiologist at Boston Children's Hospital, told

The pencil missed all major arteries, veins and nerves during its path through Olivia's brain. It lodged itself between her eyeball and the socket, so even the eye was not damaged, he said. Orbach commented that if he had to draw a line through a person's skull that would create the least amount of damage, it couldn't get any closer than this pencil's trajectory.

"The scan is absolutely stunning in terms of the number of things that were missed," he pointed out. "I have never seen anything like this and neither have my colleagues."

Still, there was a long road ahead to make sure the pencil didn't cause further damage. Olivia was immediately placed under sedation so she wouldn't move. Her mother is also pregnant, so doctors had to monitor mom as well to make sure the stress of the situation didn't cause preterm labor.

To make sure that no splinters or other pieces broke off the pencil, doctors at Boston Children's Hospital performed several scans and an angiogram, a procedure in which a contrast dye is injected through the body to allow medical professionals to see small injuries. Even a small wood piece could cause internal bleeding if doctors pulled it out the wrong way.

Then, pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Shenandoah Robinson worked with Orbach to pull the pencil out millimeter by millimeter until it was completely removed. Olivia remained groggy and a little downtrodden for a few days, but by day three, she was sitting in bed eating ice cream and laughing with her mother, Orbach recalled. While the girl does show some slight weakness on her right side -- which doctors predicted -- she is recovering quickly.

"There's a good chance she'll just be completely intact, 100 percent," he said. "At worst, she would have some very subtle lingering effects, the type of thing that would prevent her from being a gymnast but not prevent her from day to day life."

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