A two-year-old boy has been hospitalized in serious condition in Barreiras, a city 858 kilometers (533 miles) from Salvador, capital of Brazil's northeastern state of Bahia, with 50 needles in his body. He was taken to the hospital after complaining of stomach pain and vomiting.
The sewing needles, 4.5 inches (1.8 inches) in length, were found after an X-ray examination. One of needles punctured a lung, leading the doctors at Hospital do Oeste to insert a drain in the boy's body. Seventeen of the needles found in the digestive tract may have been swallowed.
The boy's mother, Maria Souza Santos, 38, took him initially to the closest hospital on December 10. Three days later, when the X-rays revealed the presence of needles, the boy was transferred to a larger hospital in Barreiras.
The case was registered at the Ibotirama police, the town where the family lives, which is near Barreiras. Three people have testified but no one was able to explain how the needles got inside the boy.
"I am a mother of six, I always have the habit of leaving them with my mother when I go to work. My mother loves my children like me and my children like my mother," said the child's mother.
In later accounts the mother said she suspected that her son had been victim of a black magic ritual. Gessivaldo Alves, father of the child, said his ex-wife found a bottle of cachaça (sugar cane liquor) and other objects used in this type of ceremony in her home where she lives with six children, the mother and the current husband, the boy's stepfather.
According to Alves, his former wife told him that the boy started feeling ill after leaving with his stepfather to the house of a woman the family didn't know. As the case started gaining media coverage, the boy's mother said he did not like to go out with his stepfather, but did not know the reason for the rejection.
Police chief Hélder Santana is investigating the possibility that the child was used in a sort of black magic ritual.
"One thing is certain," he told reporters. "someone put the needles in the child. Now we need to find out who did it and why. I have 20 years of experience and have never seen a case as absurd as this."
Arnaldo Lichtenstein, general practitioner at São Paulo's General Hospital, observed that needles inserted through the skin do not travel through the body and concluded:
"Most likely they were swallowed andÂ then perforated the stomach, affecting organs like the lung."
Dr. Luiz Cesar Soltoski who is treating the child believes that the needles were inserted one by one. The surgeon expects to remove most of the needles during surgery but since some of them are stuck to the lungs they might have to wait until the boy's breathing improves. Others may not be extracted because they are too close to vital organs or even inside them.
A medical team is evaluating how to remove the needles. Soltoski said that not all objects should be removed, since this kind of surgery would do more harm to the body then just letting them stay.
It is possible that the child live with a few needles inside the body, he stated. That would be the case with the one located inside the liver. "You have to wait for the boy's health to improve before planning what should be done by analyzing the risks and benefits of surgery," he explained.
A major concern for the doctors are the needles in the lung. There is no forecast of when the surgery will be performed because the doctors await the recovery of the child's lung, which has a drain, according to Soltoski. The left side of the organ is compromised, the doctor said.
The situation of the boy is still serious, but he remains conscious and breathing without the aid of equipment. He is fed through a tube. He still feels pain all over the body. The boy's father said he is talking, but cries when asked about what happened.
The Bahia police have arrested Roberto Carlos Magalhães, the boy's stepfather, this Wednesday afternoon. The authorities want to hear his testimony once again. Police chief Santana says he is the main witness in the case and believes he is hiding information about what happened.
The stepfather caught the attention of the police because he disappeared after a first testimony on Monday. Authorities looked for him to sign some papers and could not find him. On Tuesday, the police looked again for the bricklayer's assistant and fisherman and were informed that he had not come to work. Santana wants to know why Magalhães disappeared.
"I have no evidence against him," says the police chief. "But when a person is innocent, he does not leave like this, without answering the phone, without telling the family where he went. I found it strange, he must know something and is not willing to talk – said Santana, reiterating he has no evidence that the boy was abused.
Since he used to hang out with his stepson on weekends and take him to the house of his relatives the police now want to hear the family of the boy's stepfather.
Later, on Wednesday, the Ibotirama police announced that the stepfather confessed that he had inserted the needles in the body of the toddler. According to authorities, the man said he had help of two women.
The man also revealed that one of the women who helped him stick needles in the boy was involved in a religious sect.