The little boy who caught a bullet
CAMERON Calvisi staggered towards his father and uttered four words no parent would ever expect to hear.
"Daddy, I've been shot," he said.
With a .22 bullet lodged in his neck and a gaping hole below his right cheek, he had managed to run 20m from the farm shed into the family home at Cottonvale, 200km southwest of Brisbane.
Those four words would change the Calvisi family's life forever and spark a police investigation.
Cameron and his father Robert have spoken exclusively to The Sunday Mail about the day the cheeky five-year-old was shot in the face by his 12-year-old cousin.
While most children his age have been preparing for their first day of Prep, Cameron has spent the past three weeks clinging to life in Lady Cilento Children's Hospital.
On January 2, Cameron was playing in the shed at the family's apple orchard, with his cousins, aged 12 and seven, when the oldest of the trio grabbed the rifle from the back of a ute.
As an afternoon storm raged around them, a shot was fired. Bewildered, Robert saw his pale-faced son running towards him, his two young cousins close behind him.
He scooped up the little boy, sprinted up the stairs of the family's Queenslander and yelled out to his father, Tony.
"Cameron's been shot," he screamed over the drumming of the storm.
"I've gotta take him to hospital."
Through hail and rain, Robert floored his red VX Commodore about 17km to Stanthorpe Hospital.
"I picked him up and put him straight in the car - stuff the hail, mate," Robert said.
"I was lead-footing it. I've never driven so fast in my life, 156km/h I think I was doing all the way, in the rain."
Cameron was losing consciousness and blood was pouring from his mouth on to a shirt that Robert had placed below him.
He begged his son to stay with him, prompting him to keep saying the words "dad" and "daddy", and to keep his head forward so he didn't swallow the blood.
"He was drowsy. His eyes were starting to roll," he recalled. "I just kept making him say 'dad' all the way into town. I was making him talk to me and he was doing it.
"He was pretty active until I got him to the hospital and then they just put him straight on the bed and did what they had to do."
Nurses swarmed to the boy as they entered Stanthorpe Hospital but staff soon realised that Cameron would need specialist care.
Within hours, he was on a midnight flight to Lady Cilento Children's Hospital in Brisbane.
The following day he underwent emergency surgery to relieve the swelling.
Two days later, he underwent a second round of surgery but the bullet remained lodged in his C2 vertebra.
"They said they would only have to move the bullet forward and it would kill him," Robert said.
Surgeons told Robert that Cameron was one millimetre from death.
"At first he wasn't too well. He was pretty under the sun. He wasn't well and I cried there for a bit," Robert said.
After days of discussions, the renowned surgical team made the decision to try a third time.
For five incredibly long hours, Robert sat in the hospital and waited for the phone call to say whether his son Cameron would survive.
"My heart was pumping," he said. "From the moment he went in, I was worried that I was going to get a phone call that he didn't make it.
"When I got a phone call I thought 'oh no' and I got a bit worried. But they said it went well and he's out. He's fine.
"They just got a pair of tweezers and plucked it out."
Robert estimates the gun would have been about 1.5m from Cameron's face when it went off. Any closer and it would have killed him.
When Cameron regained the ability to speak, he too was relieved.
"They got the bullet out, daddy," he kept repeating to his father.
And now, Robert says, he won't stop talking".
Cameron will need another eight weeks of intense rehabilitation before he can return to just being a kid again.
He is still not ready to talk about what happened.
His cousins too have suffered the effects of post-traumatic stress.
Robert hopes Cameron will be discharged from Lady Cilento Children's Hospital this week, but the boy will continue to wear a heavy duty neck brace, known as a halo.
"They reckon he'll heal like a saint," Robert said.
"Once he starts eating properly I'm going to take him out and give him a decent feed, whatever he wants."
Asked what he was looking forward to the most, Cameron said: "I want to see Nonno (his grandfather)."
It wasn't the start to 2018 that the Calvisis had envisioned, as Cameron was due to start Prep tomorrow.
"He was supposed to start now, but that's going to be pushed back until at least March," Robert said. "But I want to get him started this year so he's not behind."
Police are still investigating the incident and have not ruled out laying gun storage charges.
Robert said the .22 rifle was registered to his father, Tony.
Robert and Tony say the weapon was not loaded and that the 12-year-old boy had found the bullets and placed them in the magazine.
He is yet to give a statement to police to that effect.
"I've just let go of my anger about what happened," Robert said. "I can't hold a grudge against anyone. I just didn't think something like this would ever happen.
"One of the kids has tried to figure out where the bullets have come from. I think they were just playing, but I honestly don't know."
Robert has thanked staff at Lady Cilento for saving his son's life.