Surgeons successfully removed the four most life-threatening needles from the lung and heart area of a Brazilian toddler, and are evaluating when to extract dozens more allegedly stuck deep into the boy by his stepfather.
Police say 30-year-old bricklayer Roberto Carlos Magalhaes confessed to pushing the metal sewing needles into the 2-year-old child because his lover told him to while in trances. The rituals were performed over a month supposedly to keep the couple together.
Late Friday, the child was in stable condition after nearly five hours of surgery to remove the four needles, which were up to 2 inches (5 centimeters), said Susy Moreno, a spokeswoman for the hospital in the northeastern city of Salvador where the boy was in intensive care.
"He's OK, the surgery was a success, he's doing fine," she said in a telephone interview.
Dozens more needles remain inside the boy's body, but the four removed were considered the most life-threatening.
Doctors will evaluate the boy's recovery before deciding when to perform at least two more surgeries to remove more needles, she said.
Police say they believe the lover, Angelina Ribeiro dos Santos, told Magalhaes the ritual would keep them together, but she was really seeking revenge on Magalhaes' wife by having him hurt her son.
The bricklayer told detectives that dos Santos would enter into trances and give him commands to insert the needles, police inspector Helder Fernandes Santana said. The stepfather told police the rituals happened every few days for a full month, with him inserting several needles during each session.
Dos Santos paid to have the needles blessed by a woman who practiced the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomble, Santana said.
Authorities initially estimated the boy had as many as 50 needles were inside the boy. After batteries of tests were performed, doctors now believe there are closer to 30 needles inside, but they don't know for sure.
"They haven't focused on how many there are because they are concentrating on the most dangerous ones," Moreno said.
Magalhaes and dos Santos were both arrested, though no charges were filed.
Dos Santos is not believed to be a member of any religious or occult group, and authorities believe she came up with the idea of the rituals on her own, Santana said.
The two were taken to an undisclosed lockup for their own protection after a mob threw stones at the police station where they were being held. It was not immediately clear whether they had legal representation.
Authorities also detained the woman who blessed the needles so she could be questioned, but Santana has said he expects she will be released without charge because she did not know how they were being used.
The boy's mother, a maid, took him to her hometown hospital in Ibotirama on Dec. 10, saying he was complaining of pain.
After X-rays revealed the cause, the mother told police she didn't know how the needles got inside her son, whose name was not released because of his age. The boy was later transferred to the much larger hospital in the coastal city of Salvador.
Police and doctors concluded it would have been impossible for the boy to have ingested the needles, which have been found throughout his abdomen, in one leg and in his spine.
Afro-Brazilian religions practiced in Brazil have no ceremonies, rituals or practices involving harm to people, said Nelson Inocencio, director of African-Brazilian studies at the University of Brasilia.
He worried that the incident could hurt the image of the religions, of which Candomble is the most popular, and concentrated most in Bahia state where Ibotirama is located.
Associated Press Writer Marco Sibaja contributed from Brasilia, Brazil.